Doug and Lee Lang of Troutville, north of Roanoke, were admiring a red, vintage Wood Brothers racing car at the Martinsville Speedway on Saturday.
“I have a friend who grew up down the road from both Glen and Leonard Wood in Patrick County. And I’ve never seen an old racing other than in a glimpse [on TV],” Lee Lang said.
She said she and her husband have been coming to Martinsville Speedway races about 20 years. “We have season tickets,” she said. And they are indicative of the people who flock to the speedway — sometimes traveling hundreds of miles — to visit the oldest event in NASCAR.
“There are five big races right here: two truck races, two cup races and a late model. We come to all of them,” Doug Lang said.
What attracts them to Martinsville Speedway races?
“It’s a short track. … We don’t like tracks like Daytona, where there’s nothing but big wrecks. This is where you see the skill of the driver, I think,” Doug said.
Lee Lang said she likes “the bumping and the trading paint. It’s a fun race. The racing is so much better,” she said.
“As far as we’re concerned, this is the best track on the whole NASCAR ,” her husband said.
They’ve been to Bristol a time or two, but mainly they come to Martinsville.
The Langs said they watch all the races on TV and enjoy on race days perusing all the merchandise.
“We eat at Clarence’s (steak house),” Lee Lang said.
Ron Liuzzi and Jeannie Reed drove more than 600 miles (about 11 hours) from Troy, N.Y., to attend this weekend’s races, their fourth year in Martinsville.
“It’s a nice, small track. Everybody is friendly around here,” Liuzzi said.
“Same thing, I like the people,” Reed said.
“Last year, we came, and we camped,” Liuzzi said. “The year before that, we came down for the race and went back. This year we’re in a hotel, staying for the weekend.”
Said Reed: “Seeing a few sights and enjoying ourselves. So far we’ve seen Lovers Leap. That was pretty awesome. I liked that a lot.”
What do they like about the racing at Martinsville Speedway? Do they have a favorite driver or do they like it all?
“Kevin Harvick is my favorite. I like it all,” Liuzzi said.
“I’m for No. 12 [Ryan Blaney], but I like everything about it. I grew up in this atmosphere,” Reed said.
Liuzzi said he likes the food at the races, especially the hot dogs.
“The food is good. Every track the food is good,” Liuzzi said.
“Oh yeah, everything” about the hot dogs, Reed said.
Mike Johnson and Debbie McClellan drove about 310 miles (about five hours ) from Jackson, Ohio, in their fifth visit to Martinsville.
“I love it,” McClellan said.,
“We come, I come, because short track. I like the short tracks. There’s a little bit more action than the long, drawn-out races,” Johnson said.
“I love it,” McClellan repeated.
“The fast cars, the cool cars, just the excitement," she said. "You don’t know what is going to happen on the track, but you hope no one gets hurt. But sometimes the wrecks are exciting.”
For them, is there anything different about this year’s races or their preparations to attend?
“No snow like last year,” McClellan said.
“It’s the same prep for us,” Johnson said. “We bring pretty much the same stuff every time we come. ... We stay in the same hotel.”
Johnson and McClellan both said Chase Elliott is their favorite driver.
“I’m a Chase Elliott fan because I was a fan of his dad, Bill Elliott,” Johnson said.
McClellan said she also likes Bubba Wallace.
In addition to watching the racing, Johnson and McClellan check out vendors who are selling souvenirs.
“Hats, T-shirts, little die-cast cars, whatever we see that attracts us. I’ve got a whole closet full of stuff,” Johnson said.
Brooks Taylor, director of public relations for Martinsville Speedway, said things were going great Saturday.
“There’s a lot of positive energy flowing,” he said.
Ticket sales had been steadily increasing and weather was looking good.
Henry County Sheriff's Lt. Col. Steve Eanes said the traffic flow as good in the vicinity of the track.
“The state police is taking care of the highway. I’ve not heard anything on that. I’m assuming no news is good news,” he said.
“It’s beautiful weather. I hope fans come in and have a good day, have a safe race and get home safe.”
Eanes' boss, Sheriff Lane Perry, wrote in an email shortly before 4 p.m. Saturday: “At this time, everything has gone normal today. The only advice we have for anyone attending tomorrow is allow plenty of time to get worked in, park, go through the security checks, and work through the crowds. For those who live in the area who are not attending the race tomorrow, allow themselves extra time and find paths around the track so they don’t get stuck in the race traffic flow going in or out.”
One of the people greeting fans was Charles Byrd, principal of Magna Vista High School, was working as part of the 500 Committee. “It’s a hospitality committee,” Byrd said.
He said he has been coming to Martinsville Speedway races since 1993 — as a fan from 1993 to 2016 and with the hospitality committee since then. What has most interested him about the races over the years?
“It’s not as much the races. It’s Martinsville Speedway, the sense of family, the sense of home, the small track feel, just being able to see some really good racing close up, racing and the access you have to the drivers, and just the rapport fans have with the drivers, how much they are dedicated and love their drivers,” Byrd said.
“Martinsville Speedway is just a jewel to our community. It’s great seeing the energy and excitement of all the folks that are coming to town to see the race. I just hope everybody is able to take advantage of this great thing we have in our community. Clay Campbell (president of Martinsville Speedway) and his family and Martinsville Speedway [do] such much for us. I hope as a community we’ll look and we’ll come back and support the speedway. It’s great to see the boost it gives to our economy and just see all the great people we get to see from out of town.”