NASCAR promised major changes to its schedule in 2020, and Tuesday those changes were delivered to Martinsville Speedway.
The spring race at The Paperclip in 2020 will be run on Mother’s Day weekend, with the Cup Series race on a Saturday, May 9. The race will be a night race, run under the new permanent lights installed at the track in 2017.
“ It’s something that the fans have wanted. They love short-track racing, they love Martinsville Speedway, so to run this race under the lights, we couldn’t be more excited,” Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said in a press conference at the track.
The move to early May is more than a month later into the season than previous spring races at Martinsville, which have run the third weekend of March the past two seasons.
Campbell said the move to May had less to do with weather — the spring race at the Speedway was postponed by snow a year ago — and more to accommodate a night race.
“ Obviously the snow affected our schedule for last year, but to move the thing out, obviously we couldn’t run a race at night in March,” he said. “I think everybody wanted a night race, so there had to be a logical place to put it. Mother’s Day weekend seems to be fine. Saturday night people can come to the event, have Sunday to get home and still have Mother’s Day. We’re pleased with the day. I think it’ll work out great.”
NASCAR's new schedule also includes a change to Martinsville’s fall race, which will now serve as the penultimate race of the season before the championship. The fall race at Martinsville will take place on Sunday, Nov. 1.
“ To tell you the truth I can’t tell you which race I’m more excited about,” Campbell said. “You know what kind of racing we’ve had here the last two years in the middle of the playoffs, so to be the last race before they pair down to four drivers is exciting.”
Until this point, the only races at Martinsville run completely under the lights have been the 2017 and 2018 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 late-model races. Campbell said the lights were originally installed as an insurance policy after the 2016 fall Cup Series race was in danger of not finishing before dark. He wanted to ensure the track didn’t lose a playoff race because of darkness, so lights were installed that winter.
But fans clamored for the idea of a night race at The Paperclip, and NASCAR listened.
“ It’s special. If you go back to the beginning of the track, my grandfather built it in 1947, so obviously that was the big one to start with. And then you had several milestones throughout the history of this place. It was paved in 1955. They put concrete down, that was unheard of at the time. We did that back in ’77 or ’78, And then we put the lights up,” he said. “When Jeff Gordon won the race in October of that year , and it was almost dark when he got out of the car … So that’s the reason they were here. Plus it helps if we have a rain delay. Our day doesn’t end at 5 or 6 o’clock. We could go later.
“ But I think once we put them up fans started saying ‘when are we going to have a night race in the Cup Series?’ Even NASCAR took notice, ‘Man it would be cool to see a night race here.’ We had the Late Model race… that showed everybody how special this place is at night. And I think that had a lot to do with it. It’s very historic, and I think that’s one of the biggest things that’s happened, obviously to us but one of the biggest things to happen in NASCAR.”
NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said on NASCAR’s telecast of the announcement that he thinks the change at Martinsville is “going to be awesome.”
“ You look at Martinsville, we just had a terrific race there,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a short track, which the fans love. Clay has always had a late model event there under the lights. It’s been a huge success and there’s been more and more clamoring from the fans, ‘Hey, can we race the Cup there under the lights?’ And we were able to deliver. On a Saturday night, that’s going to be terrific.”
The fall race will now be a cutoff for drivers trying to make the final four before the championship, which driver Joey Logano thinks could make for an even more intense race.
“ A Martinsville cutoff race, I don’t know if it changes much from the way that race goes already, because there’s already so much on the line when you get to that round, but anything can happen at Martinsville,” Logano said during NASCAR’s telecast.
Logano won the Martinsville fall race last season, the first race of the third round of the playoffs, giving him a spot in the championship, which he eventually won.
Campbell thanked the city of Martinsville and Henry County for their support of the track and also fans whom he said started calling the Speedway as soon as the announcement was made Tuesday afternoon.
“ It’s a great day for us. Both races are going to be huge for us, for the area, and we couldn’t be happier,” he said.
“ We have two marquee events, and I think that shows what Martinsville Speedway means to NASCAR. Because they could have done anything they wanted to. They’ve been working on this schedule for a pretty good while… so to focus in on Martinsville and put it in such a prime location on the schedule, I think that speaks well of what we have here and is something to be proud of.
“ It’s going to be big for the community because… I have no doubt in my mind we’ll pack the place to get us back to the way it needs to be. So many people will be coming to the area, we’ve got such a great relationship with the city and the county… it’s big for all of us. And we couldn’t do it without their support and vice versa.
“ For an area this size right here, to have something like this, it’s huge. And we’re proud to be here, and it’s a good home.”