Friday night is all about "Virginians supporting Virginians in Virginia," for NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Brandon Brown.
Brown is from Northern Virginia and still lives in Fredericksburg with his family-run team, Brandonbilt Motorsports, so he expects to have a nice crowd of family at Martinsville Speedway, a race he said is "a lot like coming home," for him.
Brown came to a couple races at Martinsville Speedway when he was growing up, and raced in the track's late model race a couple times. This week, he's happy to be coming to a familiar track with a lot of confidence.
Brown finished 18th at Martinsville last fall, and the No. 68 team reached the Xfinity Series playoffs last season. This year they sit in 11th in the standings with one top-5 and three top-10 finishes.
"It was one of those things when I was growing up, like, on the PlayStation playing the NASCAR video games, we always loved Martinsville because of the mayhem," Brown said by phone this week. "Short track racing, everyone is right up there with each other. So it was one of those things like, man, racing here would be so cool.
"And when I finally got to do it, it was everything I hoped and dreamed it would be. It's so much fun. A short track, it feels like I get back to my roots a little bit there."
Brown began racing go-karts when he was nine years old. Gradually he moved up to late models, travelling around to short tracks across Virginia. He made his NASCAR Truck Series debut in 2014 when he was 20 years old, with Martinsville being his third career race.
Since then, his family formed Brandonbilt, and committed themselves to staying in Fredericksburg, despite the bulk of the NASCAR world being headquartered around Charlotte, North Carolina. Starting a family team hasn't been easy, though, Brown said. It's taken a lot for him and his family to gain respect from the racing world.
"It's been a challenge," he said. "A lot of it comes with when people see that we're a family team, sometimes it's not taken as seriously as say someone that's affiliated with a Cup organization or just a legacy family that's in NASCAR. So it's been kind of an uphill battle on that side."
It was the 2020 playoff season when Brown said his team was able to prove they're the real deal. The team was in the hunt to reach the Xfinity Series Round of 8 before getting eliminated in the cutoff race.
"It's been a lot of learning curves, I will say," Brown said. "Things that we needed to figure out, and that happens in every aspect, whether it's the on-track racing side, off-track hospitality, marketing, sponsorship. Everything has been a big learning curve, but I think we're taking it in stride.
"I think the proving ourselves was making it into the playoffs and still being competitive while we're there... I think we turned a lot of heads with that. People took a lot of notice, and a lot of it has been this year with a lot of strong finishes, strong performances, racing near the front. Where normally the 68 was like, 'Oh they're there because of a pit strategy,' now we're passing people to get up there."
Brown has been able to prove himself among the Xfinity Series field, but he still wants to prove himself at Martinsville as well. He'll start Friday's Cook Out 250 19th.
His hope is he can bring home some hardware with his family in the stands to see it.
"I think everybody wants the clock. Everybody wants it," Brown said.
"It (Martinsville) was one of those tracks where I really felt like I needed to prove myself, and I thought if we get the chance to get a win there and get to take home the Grandfather Clock, I feel like that would be huge for me."
Cara Cooper is a sports writer for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at email@example.com