Mark Martin will be watching Talladega, not driving

Mark MartinThis weekend the NASCAR circuit rolls into Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for one of the fastest races on the Sprint Cup schedule. Not surprisingly, veteran driver Mark Martin will not be making the trip. Most believe that despite strong credentials acquired during his 25 years of racing at the track, Martin dislikes the high-banked oval of Talladega — an assumption that is not necessarily the case.

Martin made his first start at Talladega on Aug. 1, 1981 in the ARCA 200. The young Martin qualified second, and turned laps of over 200 mph en route to a four-second victory in his ‘Dega debut, but it would be far from his final success at the track.

He swept the poles there in 1989 (in ARCA, Busch?) and he set track records in both the Busch and Cup races there in the spring of 1997. Martin has two Cup wins, two poles, 10 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes at Talladega. For his efforts, he was named to the Talladega Hall of Fame in 2002. Martin has won in all three of NASCAR’s premier series at Talladega — Cup, Busch and Truck; the last one coming in a dominating performance in the 2006 Craftsman Truck race, where he won from the pole in his first and only Truck Series start there.

“Actually, I always liked Talladega early on,” said Martin. “In the beginning it was easier to get around than Daytona and I just didn’t find it nearly as intimidating. Back then we didn’t have restrictor plates and handling mattered. I can remember people spinning out there — I mean all on their own. It was just a ‘big ol’ race track that really tested your skills. You had to know when to go and when to let off.

“In fact, I always had a good relationship with the track,” added Martin with a pause. “Before the restrictor plates were added.”

In an effort to limit the speed of the cars for safety purposes, restrictor plates were added to the cars in 1988 at both Daytona and Talladega, forever changing the dynamics of both places.

After that, Martin experienced more than his share of success at Talladega but it never quite suited his style of racing.

“Eventually it got to where the wrecking was just ridiculous,” added Martin. “You would be so bunched up that you just hoped that you could avoid all the trouble. Most of the time it seemed like we were not able to do that.”

Martin often found himself caught up in some of the worst wrecks in the circuit’s history. With all the cars running in a tight pack, the slightest mistake or movement by a driver would cause a chain reaction of events that lead to several torn up race cars. Martin often had no where to go and many times he left Alabama banged up and disappointed.

“I’d say we had our share of heartbreak,” said Martin. “But we had some really good runs as well. Still, I never liked it as much as I did before they put the plates on.

“Back in the day, the cool draft move was the slingshot,” added Martin. “Back before you could run the cars wide open, you got a draft and a run on the guy in front of you and you did the slingshot and you could make a pass on him. Then the guy would slingshot you and you did him and he did you, etc. That all ended with the restrictor plate. It was already phasing out with the way the cars were changing, but the final straw was the restrictor plate.

“But like I said, I always liked the track and racing there,” Martin explained. “I just am not a fan of restrictor-plate racing. But the fans there are great and we always had great support there. They love their racing and they come to have a good time.”

Martin has never raced the car of tomorrow at Talladega, even though the new body style may have once again changed the face of racing at Talladega forever.

“I always said that I couldn’t wait to sit at home on the couch and watch it,” laughed Martin. “But the COT seems to have changed it a bit and you didn’t really see them as bunched up last season in the fall race as you had in the past. It still makes for a good show and I plan on watching this weekend. I know that Aric (Almirola) and the guys are excited about going there. We’ve been on a good run as of late with the No. 8 U.S. Army Team and hopefully we’ll keep that going this weekend.

“I’ll be their biggest cheerleader this weekend and then it’s back to Richmond next week.”


Mark Martin will be watching Talladega, not driving

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