Mark Martin's racing days may be behind him, but the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee still keeps close tabs on the motorsports world.
Martin joined Racing America's "The Bullring" this week, discussing everything from his own racing career to the current landscape of pavement Late Model racing.
Before embarking on his renowned NASCAR career, including 40 NASCAR Cup Series wins and 96 victories across NASCAR's national series, Martin cut his teeth in Late Models. He was a four-time American Speed Association (ASA) champion, and scored big wins in events such as the Winchester 400, the Redbud 400 and Oktoberfest at the LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway.
Martin's first big win, in the 1977 National Short Track Championship at Rockford Speedway, may be his most memorable.
“In 1977, I moved from Late Model dirt to Late Model asphalt. The opportunity to race with Dick Trickle and Joe Shear and Dave Watson and Tom Reffner and all these greats like this was just an honor for me. We went to the National Short Track Championship in Rockford and I was just 18 years old, 110 pounds, looking like a little kid.
“We qualified second to Trickle, and they invert 12 cars. When that thing was over, we crossed the finish line first. We won the National Short Track Championship. If you raced that race for 10 years, and you’d been close to winning all those 10 years, when you won it wouldn’t be a surprise. To be able to win that race was a surprise to me because I never dreamed I could be competitive on that level. We just went up there to be challenged against the best. We had no idea we could win that race.”
Like any racer, Martin remembers the bitter defeats as much as the massive victories. For him, finishing second to Dave Mader, III in the 1978 Snowball Derby still resonates as a gutting defeat.
“I lost the Snowball Derby with five laps to go in 1978, my second time down there. I was leading and blistered the right-rear tire. It bothers me as much, that loss, as the 2007 Daytona 500. It just tears my guts up that I didn’t win the Snowball Derby when I had it right there sitting in my lap.”
Martin still keeps close tabs on the current racing landscape, particularly pavement Late Models. He hopes recent trends such as the increase in purses for major events and the development of national Super Late Model tours are positive signs for the future of the sport.
“It’s a start in the right direction," said Martin. "The Dirt Late Models have really got it going on, and I really want to see the Pavement Late Models take shape and the purses go up. Look at the Dirt Late Model program for inspiration. Those guys race for $20,000 on a weeknight and get three laps of practice.
“I’m so excited to see the tables turn in the right direction for the Pavement Late Models. That’s where my heart is, because that was the foundation that propelled me to NASCAR racing. The reason I love my Late Model years more than the NASCAR years were because my handprints were all over those cars.
“I did every setup on every car I raced. I probably hung the body, did all the setups and all the tires. I remember some of the setups on my NASCAR cars, but it’s different when you have someone else doing the work for you. It doesn’t burn into you like it does when it’s your entire life’s focus.”
Fans can click here to watch more from Mark Martin's appearance on "The Bullring." Other guests on the episode include Ron Barfield of Dillon Motor Speedway ahead of the New Year's Bash and Ricky Brooks previewing the SRL Sportsman Series' season opener at the Freedom Factory.