NASCAR returns to Martinsville Speedway this weekend, so this marks a good time to recall the epic races that the historic track has hosted over more than seven decades.
The track opened in 1947, and two years later hosted the sixth race in the racing series that eventually became the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup. The track’s short length—just over a half-mile—and short, tight, nearly flat turns consistently produces wildly entertaining racing.
The speedway is ringed by more than 60,000 seats, but nearly all of them offer an unobstructed view of the entire track. Spectators are located close to the action, with cars never more than a few hundred yards away.
This weekend’s races
This weekend sees two races—the NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race on Saturday afternoon and the First Data 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 will be the second race in the NASCAR Playoffs’ “Round of 6” for the Gander Trucks, with six drivers still in championship contention coming into the historic half-mile oval.
The First Data 500 will serve as the round of 8 for the 2019 Nascar Cup Series playoffs, with these eight drivers in contention:
Kyle Busch – #18, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Martin Truex Jr. – #19, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Denny Hamlin – #11, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Joey Logano – #22, Team Penske, Ford
Kevin Harvick – #4, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford
Chase Elliott – #9, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Kyle Larson – #42, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet
Ryan Blaney – #12, Team Penske, Ford
The heat of a playoff race will no doubt factor into the racing on Martinsville’s so-called “paperclip,” where tight quarters and tight turns already make for an emotionally tense atmosphere.
Let’s look back on some pivotal moments in Martinsville’s racing history.
Sept. 25, 1949
In the first NASCAR race at Martinsville, Red Byron took the win in a 1949 Oldsmobile at the track, which played out on the still-unpaved Henry County clay.
Sept. 27, 1987
The race came down to Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte and Darrell Waltrip. Earnhardt led the three into the final lap, but Labonte tried to pass high. When Earnhardt went up to block Labonte, Waltrip shot down into the inside groove. When Labonte came back down, he and Waltrip made contact, sending Labonte into the wall, knocking Earnhardt off course, and giving Waltrip his eighth career win at Martinsville.
April 18, 1999
John Andretti led the final four laps, marking the 198th time the No. 43 car—Richard Petty’s longtime ride—won a race.
Oct. 24, 2004
Jimmie Johnson won his first Martinsville race, but his victory was bittersweet. That weekend, 10 members of the Hendrick Motorsports team died in a plane crash in nearby Patrick County.
Oct. 22, 2006
South Boston native and local favorite Jeff Burton, who was leading the series in points entering the race, dropped out after 217 laps due to engine failure. That let Jimmie Johnson take advantage to win the race en route to the first of his five consecutive titles.
Oct. 30, 2011
Tony Stewart picked up his third career Martinsville win. “Smoke” called out points leader Carl Edwards in his post-race interview, and sure enough, Stewart went on to edge out Edwards for the season championship.
Oct. 26, 2014
Dale Earnhardt Jr. grabbed the lead from Tony Stewart with four laps to go, picking up his first Martinsville win in 30 tries.
Nov. 1, 2015
Legendary driver Jeff Gordon picked up the 93rd victory of his full-time NASCAR series career. It turned out to be his last.
More to explore
Headed into Martinsville and the State Crossings region for the race this weekend? Check out some of our racing-related trip ideas.