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NASCAR-WCUP: Tire Marks on the Side? It Must be Martinsville

28 August 1998

Martinsville, VA---It always happens. About halfway through the NAPA AutoCare 500 on Sunday, September 27 at Martinsville Speedway, the NASCAR Winston Cup cars start looking like they just survived a New York City rush hour. Each one will have at least one tire mark marring the paint scheme and maybe even almost obscuring the car number. Unusual? Not at Martinsville with its tight turns and close running on a track that measures just over a half mile. John Andretti, whose car owner Richard Petty has won a record 15 times here, may be ready to up the ante in the STP Pontiac. He led 59 laps in the spring Goody's Headache Powder 500, second only to winner Bobby Hamilton, and he knows about Martinsville.

"Even the cars that finish up front at a place like Martinsville or Bristol have their share of dents and tire marks on the side," Andretti told Stock Car Racing Magazine.

"It's probably only natural that we all drive a bit more aggressively at the short tracks. The speeds are slow enough that if you get into the back of another car and spin the guy, you're probably not going to hurt him unless something really odd happens. Everybody knows they can get away with things they might not get away with at a bigger track so the aggression level automatically goes up.

"Say you're going into a corner on a mile and a half track and you've got a fender beneath the guy ahead of you. If he starts coming down, you're going to give him a break if you're a reasonable person. You'll do whatever you can to avoid a wreck that might hurt him and hurt you too.

"But in that same situation on a short track, not everybody thinks the same way. The guy who comes down is probably going to get spun out or at least knocked out of the way.

"There's always going to be some contact on the short tracks. We're talking about 3500-pound Winston Cup cars with a ton of horsepower on hard, skinny tires and it's impossible to run as close as we do on those bullrings without something happening. I'd like to think that 95 percent of the bumping is unintentional and the other five percent is just guys retaliating for bumps they thought were intentional. It's that five percent that gets pretty ugly.

"At Martinsville you can race side by side and that is one reason you don't see guys banging into each other. The other reason is that at Martinsville brakes are so critical that it's important to keep the ductwork on the nose of the car intact. If you lose the brake ducts, pretty soon you lose the brakes, too. So a driver isn't likely to keep running into you at Martinsville and it has nothing to do with whether he likes you. It's just that he knows he's going to hurt his own car more than he's going to hurt yours.

"Short track racing gives every driver a convenient excuse for anything that happens. You can always get out of the car and say, 'Well, that's just good ol' short track racing,' and everybody just sort of smiles. I've used that excuse a few times myself.

In the end, if you're a race driver you just climb in and do your best, no matter what track you're at."

The speedway's fall schedule calls for the Taco Bell 300 Late Model Stock car race on Sunday, September 20, the NAPA 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck series race on Saturday, September 26 and the 43rd annual NAPA AutoCare 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race on Sunday, September 27.

Tickets are available by calling (540) 956-3151.