By Callie Hietala
Martinsville Speedway, NASCAR’s oldest active track, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
Though the team has yet to announce any formal plans for celebration, Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said, “we’ve got a lot of things planned all year long,” and celebrations are not just scheduled around race weekends.
Beginning sometime in the next couple of weeks, there will be “something every week throughout the year, different memories, different milestones, different significant points in time throughout our history. We’re going to have fun with it,” Campbell said.
Martinsville Speedway was founded in 1947 by Campbell’s grandfather, H. Clay Earles. The first race was held on the original dirt track on Sept. 7, 1947, three months before the creation of NASCAR. More than 9,000 fans attended.
The local facility is the only NASCAR track to host NASCAR Cup Series races every year since its inception in 1949.
In 1964, the track introduced its iconic Martinsville grandfather clock trophy for race winners. The clocks, manufactured by Ridgeway Clocks, are still awarded today.
One significant acknowledgment of the track’s milestone anniversary will open on race week in April at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. The museum is creating an exhibit centered on the Speedway, which will be up for the rest of 2022.
The exhibit marks the first-ever display honoring a track’s historic anniversary, as well as its impact and contributions in the history of NASCAR.
“I think it speaks volumes for what the Martinsville Speedway has done for the sport of NASCAR,” Campbell said of the exhibit.
Campbell said he recently got to go through the archives, looking at photos, programs, memorabilia, and even trophies from the track’s long history, rediscovering moments and memories he had forgotten.
“The history and the moments in time that really mean something are abundant,” Campbell said. “There’s been so many signature moments since the speedway was built. Great finishes, great races, personalities.”
He happened on a picture of a race day years ago when actress Elizabeth Taylor visited the speedway with Sen. John Warner, Taylor’s sixth husband. She was only meant to make a brief appearance, Campbell recalled, but ended up staying the entire day.
Campbell said race fans are already getting into the spirit of the anniversary celebrations, recognizing the significance of something that has been in the sport for so long.
“If you look at Martinsville Speedway, and especially the fans when they go in the gates, they feel the history, the heritage, the tradition, and feel all the greats who have been there before,” he said.
Campbell himself is part of that tradition, carrying on his grandfather’s legacy in racing. He joined the speedway in 1978 and became track president in 1988. He is now the longest-serving track president in NASCAR.
“I grew up at the speedway,” Campbell said. “It really was my home away from home.”
Though the track has been around for three-quarters of a century, Campbell said it has always been and continues to be a work in progress.
“Every year we’re doing something,” he said, “pressing forward and growing with the times.”
Though some things may have changed, others remain the same. The original dirt track was paved in 1955 and in 2017 the speedway became the first major racing facility in the nation to install LED lights, but the .526-mile track with its iconic paperclip shape remains the shortest on the Cup Series schedule.
Ultimately though, Campbell returns to the race fans who flock to the speedway on race weekends and whose support, he said, is crucial to the speedway’s continued success.
“Fans are the reason the track is still here after 75 years,” he said.
“I think (they) appreciate how we look back,” Campbell said, “respect tradition while at the same time moving forward into the modern era.”