Martinsville Speedway announced changes Wednesday morning to October’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 late model race, including changes to the race format and overall purse.
Likely the biggest change comes in how the race will finish. Last season’s rules indicated that the race would allow a maximum of three attempts at a green-white-checkered flag finish, which provided for a controversial ending. On the final green-white-checkered attempt, a third incident restart brought out a final caution, and after a lengthy delay it was determined the car of CE Falk was the leader of the last completed lap, giving him the victory.
In this year’s race, there will be unlimited attempts at a finish, and the race will end under green flag conditions, no matter what.
Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said he and track officials always look at previous events and see what they can do to improve on the race year to year. Another change to the end of the race comes during the final stage, which was just 20 laps last year. In this year’s iteration, the stage breaks will be at Laps 75 and 150, with the final stage spanning the final 50 laps. There will also be no inversion of the front drivers.
With drivers no longer feeling like they have to go all-in for a final stage, drivers at Wednesday’s press conference said they think it would help calm down the race for the checkered flag, and allow drivers to rely more on their skill.
“I think when we have three attempts at a green-white-checkered — and we saw it last year — when two attempts are gone and you have one to go I think that breeds as much chaos as unlimited attempts at it,” Campbell said. “We saw that last year when everybody knew ‘This is my last shot. I’ve got to go for it.’”
“With this deal you don’t really know when the last shot is going to be, so it will probably end up being a lot cleaner racing,” two-time VSCU300 winner Lee Pulliam said. “Getting the last stop in with 50 to go is going to be huge in preventing that. and no inverts is going to be huge. A lot of times with inverts the best cars are back in seventh or eighth where they’ve got to claw and fight to the top and by the time they get there they’re aggravated. I think it’s all positive.”
Former NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion, and the 2018 Virginia Triple Crown winner, Peyton Sellers said having a 50-lap run to the finish will put an even bigger emphasis on tire and fuel strategy, which will help prove who is the best driver on the track.
“You’re going see your better cars kind of cycle back to the front,” Sellers said. “It’s not going to be a 20-lap shootout with four new tires or two new tires. Before, they bunched everybody up late in the race and that bred a bunch of wrecks and that sort of thing. Where now in a 50-lap run, more than likely you’re going to see guys settle out, race, and you’re going to see the best guy win the race.
“Obviously if something happens and we have a green-white-checkered you’re going to see some guys make some bonsai moves and do some things they’re not proud of on Sunday morning, but that’s the excitement of NASCAR, you see it every Sunday… that’s part of the sport we’re in and guys know that going into it.”
The Speedway also announced several other changes to this year’s race format. They include:
- Qualifying will be changed to single-car on Friday night, and the top 20 finishers will automatically qualify for Saturday’s feature race, as opposed to years past when only the top two finishers qualified.
- With the changes to qualifying, there are also changes to the heat races given the fewer number of cars. There will now be two 50-lap heat races, rather than three 25-lap races, with the top 10 from both heats moving on to the feature. The last-chance heat race will be eliminated.
- During the feature race, changes to the car are no longer limited to just at the stage breaks. There will also be no engine rule changes during the event.
“We spent a lot of time talking about the race last year… we want exciting racing, we want the fans to be pleased, but we don’t want it to get out of hand,” Campbell said of the changes. “Some of the things we have done here are I think in the best interest of these guys sitting up here and the fans. We’re not taking anything away from anybody but we try to make it where it’s a legitimate best of the best show, and that’s really what this is.”
Qualifying changesThe changes to qualifying was something else drivers took to. Pulliam said no longer having to worry about the better drivers getting knocked out or their cars tore up in the heat races will make for a better feature.
“A lot of times some of the best cars get knocked out in the heat races, so it put a little bit of a damper on the feature,” he said. “I think the heat races are going to be more legitimate with 50 laps to race and I think it’s all positives for the low-budget racer. I just think it’s more of a realistic chance that you can make the event without being tore up before you even get in.”
“I really love the top 20 deal,” Falk added. “I grew up coming here and it was the 20 baddest dudes in late model racing showing up and you’ve got three laps to do it and it’s a lot of pressure and you can kind of psych yourself out just waiting for your turn out there on the front straightaway. I’ve seen a couple guys had the fastest car bar none in the morning practice and then just lose it… it’s always a big thrill to be in the top 20, you don’t have to be in a heat race and save your equipment. It always evens out a little bit, the top two always seemed like they had an advantage with only two laps on their tires.”
Prize moneyThe Speedway also announced several changes to the prize money and overall purse of the race. The winner’s prize will increase to $32,000. The top five finishers will receive $8,000, $6,000, $5,000, and $4,000 each.
The pole winner will receive a $5,000 prize, and $1,000 will be awarded to each of the two feature race stage winners.
The leader of each lap will receive $25, with $5,000 total available in a laps led bonus pool.
“I think the universal statement at any racetrack is if you’re going to give up more money we’re going to be happy,” Falk said with a laugh. “So thank you for that and ValleyStar… thank you for stepping up and believing in this race.”
The laps led prize was a big selling point to Sellers, not just for the money, but for the racing it will provide.
“That’s huge, that means more to me because that’s going to make the guys up front, nobody’s riding, nobody’s saving tires, you want to get to the front and accumulate as many of those $25 as you can get. So I’m a big fan of that,” he said.
Going for itThe ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, which is at 3 p.m. Oct. 5, is undoubtedly one of, if not the biggest late-model race in the country, and all the drivers at Wednesday’s press conference said they believe the changes will only make it better.
“I love to see grassroots racing growing,” Pulliam said. “I think this was the biggest event in the country as far as late model stock car racing, and they just made it that much bigger.”
“All of these that show up to this race are going to be cars that can win at their local short tracks,” Sellers said. “It’s a little bit of a crap shoot here at Martinsville because it is such a unique track to everybody. It’s not like anywhere they race at on regular Saturday night. … That’s what we want to see as competitors and racers. We want to be able to have it in our own hands a little bit. Sometimes it’s not about having the fastest car, it’s about the being the smartest guy with a fast car.
“It’s already a great event. Don’t tell Clay but I think we’d all show up anyway without the money,” Falk said “But the money incentive, the grandfather clock, everything about it, racing against the best, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why I come back to Martinsville every year. Just appreciate the opportunity to come back and do it again.”
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.