Martinsville Speedway is a short jaunt from downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, United States of America. It is a popular motorsport venue which also happens to be a World War II historical site. The NASCAR race has been going on there since 1962, with the annual car race being one of the premier sporting events in the Carolinas.
If you have never been there, here’s a run-down of the location:
The speedway first opened its doors in 1947 and was originally known as the North Carolina Speedway. The following year, it was decided that the track needed a better name and was subsequently rebranded as what it now calls itself – Martinsville Speedway. The track’s first NASCAR race was held in 1962 and was won by Junior Johnson.
The track changed location a few times over the years, but the bulk of it remained in Martinsville, until 2010 when it was announced that the speedway would be moving to a new facility in Mooresville, North Carolina. The grand opening of the new speedway took place on April 29th that year, attracting a large crowd. The present-day Martinsville Speedway is actually three miles east of the old track and, due to the unique topography of the area, there is still some slight differences in terrain between the two locations. The new speedway is actually across the street from a Wal-Mart. The old track was next to a Lowe’s.
Over the years, the attendance at Martinsville Speedway has fluctuated. There have been times where the track had to cancel a race due to lack of interest, while other times the crowds have been absolutely phenomenal, especially compared to other North Carolina sporting events. The track has never really been able to draw the kind of crowds that the Raleigh Warriors used to regularly draw to football games and college basketball games. But that could be due to the fact that there is always competition for people’s attention these days, with many appealing options available for entertainment beyond the sports arena.
Compared to other NASCAR tracks, Martinsville Speedway is actually rather small. The grandstands are actually right on the racing line and there are no interior fences surrounding the track. This makes for some very close racing. There have also been several instances where drivers have found themselves in the wall or on the track due to bad crashes. One of the more notable incidents was in the 1970s when Richard Petty hitched a ride to the pits on a camel. Another was in the 1990s when Scott Forbes hit the wall at over 200 mph and was launched into the stands. It’s also worth noting that some of the the facilities at Martinsville Speedway have been upgraded over the years, but overall, the track still maintains a pretty traditional setup.
A big advantage of Martinsville Speedway is that there are rarely any traffic jams near the track. There are some exceptions to this if there’s an event going on at the speedway or a big motorcade is headed there, but for the most part, the surrounding area is extremely quiet and serene. The only noise you’ll usually hear is the occasional bleating of a goat or coyote and the low rumble of a jet engine from an airplane flying overhead or taking off from a nearby airport. You’ll also notice that the air feels a lot fresher there than it does anywhere else. This is probably because there aren’t any tall buildings nearby that would otherwise suck up the oxygen.
The only thing that can even remotely be considered close to an ‘extension’ of the track is the adjacent soccer field. The rest of the neighborhood is almost completely residential – mostly large beautiful homes with manicured lawns and well-maintained gardens. Occasionally, you’ll see a farm or a horse paddock out in the back. All in all, the surrounding area is quite picturesque and definitely worth a stroll or a bike ride, if you’re into that sort of thing.
If you live in the Raleigh Metro Area, then getting to Martinsville Speedway is actually quite simple. From the south, take the I-40 to Exit 23 (Johnston Street) and then head east on Johnston Street for about a mile or so. Turn left onto Hoyle Avenue and then right onto Wade Hampton Road. At the third traffic light, make a right onto South Wilmington Street and follow it to the end. At the end of that road, you’ll see a dirt track with some trailers and billboards in the distance. You’re almost there!
The entrance gate to Martinsville Speedway is open throughout the year and there are usually no fees associated with parking there. Bikes are also allowed in the paddock area, as long as they’re parked there – and they will be. Like almost every other racetrack in America, the gates close at noon on Sunday – unless there’s a race that day, in which case, they remain open until the last race flag is dropped. During that time, you’ll usually find people sitting in lawn chairs, eating ice cream, and waiting for the action to resume. The staff is also very polite and courteous – which is essential, given the infrequency some people have at approaching a racetrack.
Martinsville Speedway is also home to the Triad Roller Derby, a three-woman flat-track roller derby league. The Raleigh Roller Girls and the Carolina Crush have both had some amazing matches played out there. It’s also a stop on the World Championship Short Track Racing series and is the site of the prestigious World of Outlaws Stampede. But perhaps the most unique event that takes place at the track is the Old North States Fair. The fair was first held at Martinsville in 1928 and continues each year, attracting thousands of visitors and offering a cornucopia of agriculture, art, and commerce. Each August, the town turns into a carnival-like atmosphere and everything from agricultural exhibits to street performers draw in the crowds. It’s definitely not something you’d see every day, but it’s definitely unique.
As mentioned previously, Martinsville Speedway is the site of one of NASCAR’s premier events. The race itself typically takes place in mid-April and is one of the highlights of the entire NASCAR season. The entire town is abuzz with activity in the lead-up to the race and the buildup to the final laps is usually exciting. It’s been called the ‘Death Race’ for good reason – there have been numerous instances of drivers going head-to-head until the last bit of metal remains and, for the most part, it’s been pretty close to the wall all the time. If you’re a NASCAR fan, then Martinsville is the place to be in April.
Restaurants & Bars
Let’s face it, food and drink always go hand-in-hand and, as mentioned previously, the surrounding area is pretty picturesque – there are always plenty of opportunities for diners and drinkers alike to indulge themselves. If you’re visiting Martinsville Speedway, then there’s a good chance that you’ll want to eat someplace nearby. Thankfully, the town is quite abreast of culinary trends and is very well-stocked with trendy eateries, bistros, and restaurants of every variety. There are even a couple of Japanese restaurants in the area, which is pretty cool, given that there’s a large Japanese community in Raleigh. It’d be a shame to pass up on those delicious ramen noodles, for example, when you’re in such close proximity to a perfectly crafted steakhouse.
There’s plenty to do in the vicinity of Martinsville Speedway. You’ve got your basic shopping options, with most places keeping hours that suit those of automobile enthusiasts – unlike most other places, which close very early on Sundays, due to the presence of the racetrack. There is also a brand new 16-screen movie theater in town, which is the hub of recreational activity during the week and the place to be on the weekends. If you’re looking for souvenirs or anything else related to the racing season, then there’s a good chance that you’ll want to visit the track’s souvenir shops – and who wouldn’t, with prices that range from a few dollars to a couple hundred? There’s also a variety of boutique stores and restaurants in the area – including some fast-food joints, which are open on Sundays, as well as some bars and eateries, which are open late on the weekdays. Overall, it’s a healthy mix of commercial, retail, and entertainment venues and anyone would be hard-pressed to find a place more fitting of a racetrack in North Carolina. Especially considering the name of the track.