Clint Bowyer and Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell go side-by-side at Rush Hour Karting, outside of Raleigh, in advance of the Goody’s® Headache Relief Shot® 500 at Martinsville Speedway on November 1.
It is a springtime ritual for Timothy Forest, Catherine Taylor and David Laing: Make the 50-mile drive south from Roanoke and set up their tents in a far corner of the Martinsville Speedway campground.
They were extra-excited Saturday morning. They were the first tent-campers to claim a spot for the STP 500 race week. They were unloading their van and unpacking gear minutes after the campground opened at 8 a.m.
“We put up the tents today and come back on Thursday and stay until Monday,” said Forest. “We would love to stay the whole week, but we’ve got work and children. We might try to squeeze out a little early and get back down here though.”
Taylor, known as ‘Cat’ by her friends, was doing most of construction work Saturday morning while her boyfriend Forest, Laing and Scrappy, a chubby part-Chihuahua, part-something else pup, watched.
“They don’t know how to put them up,” Taylor said, preferring to do the work herself than put up with the help of Forest and Laing.
The trio of campers is part of a larger group that will return to the site on Thursday to officially begin their race week leading up to next Sunday’s STP 500. There will be at least six, one who has been coming for 13 years, Taylor said.
The four-night Martinsville stay is a highlight of the year for the group, which has a menu planned that includes barbecue ribs, steak, hot dogs, hamburgers and cold beverages.
“We mingle with people. We play cornhole and horseshoes Way down there is a spot that has karaoke,” said Laing, pointing to a location about a quarter-mile away. “And I love karaoke. I have the best time over there with those folks.
“You wouldn’t believe the people from all over the country I’ve met and they invite me in like they have known me forever.”
Angela and Dean Pruitt arrived early on Saturday also, setting up their camper for the 13th consecutive year. They live barely 25 miles away in Danbury, N.C., but stay in the Martinsville Speedway campground for both races every year.
“Why do we do it? Oh my God, I love it,” said Angela. “It’s my sport and the campground is my place.”
The Pruitts have spent an entire week in the campground in past years, but returned home to Danbury Saturday for three days of work before the fun begins.
“There’s a group I’ve know the entire time we’ve been coming. We don’t camp side-by-side. We’re up on the hill and they’re over in the hollow,” said Angela. “But we all play cornhole together, walk laps in the campground, dance, sing karaoke and pull for Junior.”
General admission campsites in the Martinsville Speedway campground are available. Cost for the week is just $100.
Advanced ticket prices for the STP 500 start at $45.
Ticket prices increase Monday.
Tickets to the Virginia Lottery Pole Day on March 27, the Kroger 250 Camping World Truck Series race on March 28 and the STP 500 Sprint Cup Series race on March 29 can be purchased by calling 877.RACE.TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.
The holiday season is a time for giving and Martinsville Speedway’s 18th annual Christmas Toy Drive showed that the NASCAR community is willing to do just that. The toy drive raised more than $13,000 and saw 200 toys donated for the Grace Network of Martinsville and Henry County.
A network of more than 100 area churches, the Grace Network will use the money to provide toys and clothes to underserved and underprivileged children in the area.
“Being able to donate more than $13,000 to the Grace Network is going to help bring smiles to a lot of kids’ faces on Christmas morning,” Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said. “Martinsville Speedway is proud of our community and our fans. While the speedway presents the check, it truly is a community donation.”
The Grace Network gets lists of names from the churches in the network and then is able to take the money raised and shop according to each child’s needs and wishes.
“Being able to bring joy to children in this season is a blessing,” said Simone Redd, a Grace Network board member and the one who heads up the shopping. “The generous donations and toys received allowed us to spread the spirit and true meaning of Christmas throughout the community.
“Christmas is a special time of the year and we, at Grace Network, appreciate the opportunity to participate in the toy drive with the Martinsville Speedway.”
This year’s toy drive reached a bigger audience than ever before, thanks to some ticket packages that were put up for auction. Race fans from all over the country bid on race experiences like getting a picture taken in Victory Lane with the STP 500 winner or the opportunity to ride in the Official Pace Car for the start of the race.
However, it wasn’t all about change. Like in years past, fans had the opportunity to drive their personal cars around the track, in exchange for a new toy or a $10 donation. Different from years past though, the laps were spread out over two weeks, instead of being limited to one day. This gave fans from as far away as New Jersey and South Dakota the opportunity to participate.
When Ryan Newman visited Martinsville High School as part of NASCAR’s Chase Across America tour, he found himself 16th in points and an underdog in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Ten weeks later, Newman now finds himself as one of four drivers in the Championship Round, with a chance to win the title Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The school’s football team is now using Newman as inspiration, as they too find themselves in an underdog role heading into the state playoffs.
“Where he is winless and was still able to get to the Championship Round is a big deal for us,” said Bulldogs center Harrison Toole. “We have one win. Nobody’s expecting us to go anywhere in this tournament, but yet, if we tried hard and play our best we still have a possibility of winning the championship.
Much like Newman, the Bulldogs enter the tournament as a 16th seed. Their first round game Friday night is against Giles County, the defending state champion and a team that has won 25 straight games.
“We’re taking him (Newman) and using it as an ‘anything can happen, anything’s possible,’” said Nigel Preston, the team’s nose guard. “It doesn’t matter about winning. What matters is effort and how well you play.”
Kicker Emily Martin, who beat Newman in the kicking portion of the Punt, Pass and Kick contest during his visit, said that Newman played a role in the team getting to the playoffs.
“The fact that he was the underdog and we are the underdog, we can compare ourselves to him,” she said. “We used him as inspiration to get to the playoffs, to play hard and to get the points that we needed to get there.”
While a football game only lasts four quarters, the players will take what they learned from Newman and apply it to life off the gridiron, as well.
“It goes along with life too,” Toole said. “Because if you try hard and give it your best you have a chance to go far and be the best you can, in life.”