It took 70 years. Seventy years before permanent lights would be added at Martinsville Speedway. For a track that has seen improvements from the day it opened in 1947, the biggest improvement came in 2017.
In October of last year, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. by his side, Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell announced the track would be installing lights. Not just any lights either, but a state-of-the-art LED lighting system that makes the track the first major motorsports facility in the United States to do so.
The only track remaining from NASCAR’s original schedule has thrived for 70 years by making bold decisions and investing back into the facility. When the late H. Clay Earles founded the track in 1947 he said that Martinsville Speedway was never going to be complete. It was a creed lived by until the day he died in 1999 and one he passed on to his grandson Clay Campbell who has served as the track president since 1988.
“My grandfather believed in two things,” Campbell said. “The first was that Martinsville Speedway would never be complete and the other was that when a fan spends his dollars at Martinsville he’s going to get a real return on his investment.
“I think the two go hand-in-hand and it’s a philosophy that I’ve taken a lot of pride in continuing.”
The reinvestments into the race track started early. After seven years as a dirt track, where cars raced on red clay, Earles decided in 1955 to pave the paperclip shaped oval. The decision was made at a time when most short tracks remained dirt.
There were other improvements throughout the years for both fans and drivers. Things like increasing payouts to the iconic grandfather clock trophy benefited drivers and improved grandstands and corporate suites were for the fans.
However, no matter what the latest improvement was, there was always one question that remained.
“’When are you guys going to add lights?’ From fans to drivers to media members, that question would come up in nearly every conversation I’ve had about the race track,” Campbell said. “We made, along with our parent company International Speedway Corporation, the biggest single investment into Martinsville Speedway ever.”
The $5 million project started not long after the announcement was made and is complete as the track celebrates 70 years of racing.
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the 70th anniversary than by having the lights go up,” Campbell said. “It’s fitting that on such a historic year, we are celebrating the past, but also showing that we are here for the long haul. This place was built on the future and we’re continuing that with the addition of lights.”
The track has already scheduled its first night race, the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 on September 23. The race is NASCAR’s biggest, richest and most prestigious Late Model Stock Car race.
“They will add so many possibilities for us, when it comes to events at the track. We’ve already scheduled the first night race and are exploring more options every day,” Campbell said. “It’s a really exciting time for Martinsville Speedway.”