Flipping the Switch: Martinsville’s Lights Made Big Impression in Final Hour of 2017 First Data 500
Although Martinsville Speedway is yet to host a true Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series night race, the 2017 edition of the First Data 500 saw the final, dramatic hour take place under the historic half-mile’s state of the art LED lighting system.
For veteran drivers and Speedway staff alike, the lights coming on during a Cup race – even if just for 100 laps – was a seminal moment.
“I think the combination of the drama of the NASCAR Playoffs, the wild ending to the 2017 First Data 500 and the lights turning on was an incredible moment in Martinsville Speedway history,” Speedway President Clay Campbell said. “I’ve seen a lot of history in my time on staff here and that moment’s really near the top. It was the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people.”
The 2018 edition of the First Data 500 will again see the lights turn on for the final portion of the race. With a 2:30 pm start time and a 6:30 pm sunset, Victory Lane will once again take place under the bright lights on the frontstretch.
Kurt Busch, one of the most experienced drivers on the Cup Series circuit, noted that the moment the sun set in October of 2017 marked a “huge” moment for all of the drivers who came from an asphalt Saturday night short-track background.
“That was huge. For us (drivers), short track racing was our start at a Saturday night bullring,” Kurt Busch said. “A flat track like Martinsville with heavy braking under the lights, it was really cool to see all of that come together.”
Brad Keselowski echoed Busch’s sentiment, noting the history of the track, the desire for every great driver to own a grandfather clock trophy and the importance of short-track racing to NASCAR’s fan base all came together when the lights came on.
“It’s a great track to race at under the lights,” Keselowski said.
Kyle Busch, who was the first Cup driver to celebrate in Victory Lane under the lights after his win last fall, said that it was “kind of weird” to race at Martinsville at night after so many Sunday afternoon events in the Speedway’s history.
“It was different, usually that race starts a bit earlier and ends at dusk,” Kyle Busch said. “The lights were certainly different, it was a different game. The track changed a lot and guys were all over one another.”
With fans clamoring for a night race in the future, Kurt Busch gave voice to their argument saying “tracks can trade different dates around as our series moves forward and when you position yourself like Martinsville Speedway has with lights, there’s no reason they can’t have a race there in the future where they turn the lights on.”
With 2019 dates set and Sunday afternoon races slated at Martinsville Speedway, fans, drivers and Campbell must look down the road for any potential night races.
“I know what it was like for me when the lights came on last year, I can only imagine what the drivers and fans felt,” Campbell said. “We certainly hope to use our lights more in the future, but everyone will get a taste of them again this fall.”
The First Data 500 weekend is October 26-28.
Advance ticket prices for the First Data 500 begin at just $48 with youth tickets for fans 17-and-under costing just $25 regardless of location. Youth 17-and-under will be admitted free to the Texas Roadhouse 200 presented by Alpha Energy Solutions NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race as well as Friday’s practice day.
The weekend starts with a practice day for the truck series on Friday, followed by the Hauler Parade.
On Saturday, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is in action with the Texas Roadhouse 200 presented by Alpha Energy Solutions. Following the race the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will qualify for Sunday’s First Data 500.