For two decades, Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell has been asked to speculate.
Can his track keep two annual Cup races in perpetuity? What do changes in the sport mean for his venue? Will Martinsville continue to occupy as prominent place in NASCAR as it has for more than a half a century?
Essentially, Campbell’s response has always been the same: He can’t guarantee anything, but he likes his position. Martinsville is doing everything it can to keep up with modern fan expectations while still embracing its rich history.
Ultimately, though, it’s NASCAR’s decision when and where they want to race.
Last week, NASCAR announced that it would be purchasing International Speedway Corporation — owner of Martinsville Speedway, Richmond Raceway and 11 other tracks — in a $2 billion acquisition deal. The sanctioning body gains even more flexibility regarding where it chooses to race, as it no longer has to answer to shareholders of publicly traded ISC.
So naturally, Campbell is getting the questions again. What does this sale mean for Martinsville?
“I really see no change whatsoever,” Campbell said Tuesday, during a news conference to announce the addition of a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race to the Martinsville Speedway schedule next May. “We’re talking so much about 2020 with the May race under the lights, with the fall race, the [October Trucks/Infinity/Cup] tripleheader…
“Who do you think put that schedule together? NASCAR. And it’s probably two of the best dates on the entire schedule. I think that says a lot without me even elaborating any more, the importance of Martinsville Speedway to NASCAR.”
He’s right. The 2020 schedule itself is a better indicator of NASCAR’s commitment to certain tracks than any sale could be. Not only is Martinsville getting an Xfinity Series race for the first time since 2006, but the speedway also will host the penultimate race of all three national touring series — events that confirm the contenders for the Phoenix finales.
In other words, these are very important races. NASCAR wouldn’t just put them anywhere.
The spring race moved from late March, when weather is often sketchy, to Mother’s Day weekend in early May next year. That’s allowed Martinsville to introduce its first night Cup race on May 9, 2020. A flag-to-flag 500-lapper under the lights has been overdue there, and it ought to galvanize fans of the historic track.
“I think when you look at the history of Martinsville and what it means to the sport of NASCAR, it would be really difficult — almost unimaginable — to imagine a NASCAR without Martinsville,” said Brandon Thompson, NASCAR’s managing director for touring series. “I’m not sure that anything’s changed as much as it is you’re seeing a more vocal stance from the fans about how important short-track racing is. And we agree.”
The day news of the ISC sale broke, Campbell stayed mum, referring to information contained in a NASCAR press release. In truth, there wasn’t much he needed to say.
There are still no guarantees, but he likes his position. We’ve heard that before. And for 20 years, he’s been proven right.