NASCAR on Fox's Mike Joy Finds Great Joy At Martinsville Speedway
Mike Joy was raised on racing in the Northeast, where the powerful open-wheel Modified racers were king. But the Modified promised-land was Martinsville Speedway and Joy's first trip chasing those cars south to the historic half-mile began a lifetime love affair with the track.
It was the spring of 1973. Joy and a couple of his young buddies, all with empty pockets, hatched a plan for a road trip to Martinsville.
"We were so broke in 1973, nobody had a car that could make the trip," recalled Joy, the lead announcer for NASCAR on FOX, who was in Martinsville Tuesday night as the keynote speaker for the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.
"We rented a car from Hertz and somewhere in New Jersey disconnected the odometer cable. Miles meant money and we didn't have much. For those of us who followed the Modified Division then, Martinsville was our Mecca. It had the biggest races and the most fun.
In the 40 years since that first Martinsville trip in a hijacked rental car, Joy has worked his way through racing's broadcasting ranks to become arguably the best in the business. He went from track announcer in the Northeast to Motor Racing Network pit reporter before landing the job as MRN's anchor in the booth for Sprint Cup races. In the early 1980s he transitioned to television, working for CBS and TNN. Since 2001 he has led FOX's broadcast crew. Along the way he has worked an amazing 34 Daytona 500s.
But through all those years, all those races, one thing has remained constant to Joy: Martinsville Speedway.
"When I bring someone new to a race that has never been to one, absent the Daytona 500, I want to bring them to Martinsville," Joy said. "It's my history, it's my passion. Every race morning, I'll park at the end of Brass Shop Road and walk down through the neighborhood to the track and there are people parking cars, selling biscuits, making coffee; just being part of the experience.
"I know I'm walking into someplace special where Richard Petty and Junior Johnson and Red Byron raced. It's the same feeling you get when you go to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. It's the intimacy of Martinsville, where you sit right on top of the action that makes it the greatest experience in racing. It's a combination of nostalgia, innovation, expansion and uniqueness."
These days Joy gets to sit high above the track in the broadcast booth, surrounded by scores of TV monitors and high-tech equipment spitting out information. But sometimes he looks to his right toward the area he knows he would be sitting if he weren't working.
"If I had to buy a ticket here, I would get it in Double D (Sprint Tower in the first turn). The cars are coming right at you. The rubber is flying. You can see the drivers in the car. I may even get hit by a chicken bone, but that's all part of the experience," said Joy.
"You have a national treasure here," Joy told the crowd of about 300. "Every time I come here, I'm renewed."
Joy will come back to town the weekend of March 28-30 for the STP 500 weekend. The Kroger 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race is scheduled for March 29 and Pole Day on March 28.
Tickets for the STP 500 weekend are now on sale and can be purchased by calling 877.RACE.TIX or online, at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.