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For race fans at speedway, party starts early
Campers gear up ahead of race weekend
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Martinsville Speedway visitors (from left) Jim Gardner, Jonathan Lund and his wife, Diane Lund, John James, Brooke Marquis and Bob Blacka cheer Monday at the Martinsville Speedway.
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Spirits were high and the mood was downright festive Monday at the Martinsville Speedway — even though several days remain before the green flag will mark the start of Saturday’s Sprint Cup Series Kroger 250 or Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup STP 500.

“We always get here early. We came Wednesday of last week,” said Jim Gardner, who is camping at the speedway with his wife, Kathy, and a diverse group of fellow race fans.

From Meaford, Ontario, Jim Gardner said he and his wife have made the trek to Martinsville for the better part of the past 10 years — to enjoy the race, of course, and to spend time with friends they have made over the years. The group eats, hangs out and catches up, he added.

Gardner said he also attended the March 16 race at Bristol, “but this is my favorite. They keep the prices reasonable and there are lots of good people here, too,” he said. In addition to speedway staffers, Gardner said he enjoys visiting with friends like Brooke and John Marquis of Quincy, Mass.

“We’ve been coming (to Martinsville to camp) since 2002,” Brooke Marquis said, smiling along with a group of friends near her fire pit. “We just hang out until race day, have pot luck dinners” and enjoy good company with folks such as Diane and Jonathan Lund of Charlotte, N.C.

“We had the easy drive,” Diane Lund quipped of the drive from North Carolina.

All have been coming to Martinsville long enough to plan for a variety of weather conditions, Marquis said. That could come in handy today: The forecast includes a fifty percent chance of rain or snow through early afternoon.

“(If) it’s icky, we will probably go shopping,” Marquis said.

Bob Blacka, who is from Woodbridge and has been coming to races in Martinsville since 1991, chimed in that “it wouldn’t be Martinsville” if the weather wasn’t unpredictable.

Dianne Darouse of Hampton and Susan Shrewsbury of Josephine, W.Va., parked their campers on a ridge that overlooks a portion of one campground.

Because of their position, “We’re the hill people,” Shrewsbury laughingly said.

Darouse explained that the two visit Martinsville each spring and fall, and each time, they set up their campers on the same ridge.

“There are about seven of us” who meet for the two races and catch up on their friendships, Darouse said. “Almost all of us have been together eight or nine years now.”

Darouse, who has been coming to the speedway for more than 20 years, said she has seen all kinds of weather events while there.

“We sat here through snow one day” and another year, “we sat here through rain,” she said. Those days, “we stay inside. Watch movies or read.”

Shrewsbury noted that group members are from all over — including New York and Indiana.

“We go all over” while in Martinsville, Shrewsbury said. “We go to flea markets, antique shops, and we make a lot of trips to Food Lion.” Some small business owners “get to know us and look forward to seeing us coming” each spring and fall, she added.

This year, Shrewsbury said, she hopes the group can explore Martinsville, perhaps shop at the mall or sniff out another antique shop or two. Regardless though, she is one more happy camper.

“This is home. This is our second home,” Shrewsbury said. “I love Martinsville. I love this place.”


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