I did something that I know I’m never supposed to do. Yesterday I was reading articles about Saturday night’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, and I was perusing another news site’s Facebook page… and I read the comments.
It was a terrible idea. The No. 1 rule of maintaining your internet sanity is to never, ever read the comments. But I did, mostly by accident, and I caught myself before getting in too deep. But I was surprised (okay, it’s the internet, so not that surprised) by the comments of “I’ll never go back to Martinsville Speedway after that race!” I was really wondering if I was at the same race as these angry people.
Did the race end perfectly? No, although I won’t lie, seeing all the cars lined up, with Falk and Corey Heim side-by-side, and then Falk pulling out front to follow the pace car across the finish line felt like the ending of a movie. It was very ceremonial and I liked it.
And everything that came before that made for a great race.
If you weren’t there, the race went into three overtimes, the maximum allotted under race rules, and was eventually called on Lap 218. I don’t have an official count, and wasn’t looking at my clock, but I believe it was something like 20 minutes where everyone at the Speedway was left waiting to hear who was the winner. Most people, at least it seemed in the infield, believed that the winner would be whoever was leading when the caution came out. And on the big screen, they kept showing the moment the yellow flag waved, which looked like Corey Heim was ahead of CE Falk.
But, that wasn’t the rules. The rules say the winner is the car leading on the last completed lap, which was Falk, so he was the winner.
So that was a lot of confusion, and if fans in the stands weren’t listening on the radio they probably didn’t really know why Falk was pushed across the line first before Heim.
But again, everything leading up to that was great and entertaining, and the 20 minute wait was pretty compelling drama.
The new tire rule, where cars had a choice to take tires at either the 100 or 180 lap mark or go two-and-two at both breaks, worked great. Josh Berry, who was leading at the midway break, got four fresh tires at Lap 100, and was battling for the lead at the end with Peyton Sellers, who got fresh tires at the 180 break.
Unfortunately it didn’t matter for either car in the end, but for a while it looked as if that tire strategy could decide the winner. I would say it was a big part of why Sellers was near the front given the damage his car had sustained earlier in the race.
And in the final laps it looked like Late Model outsider Bubba Pollard could take home the win. Pollard is considered one of the best Super Late Model and short track drivers in the country, but he said Friday before this weekend he had barely ever been in a Late Model car, and he’s only driven at Martinsville once back in 2005. Yet there he was in third during overtime.
And then he was mixed up in a wreck with Layne Riggs and Sellers on Lap 209. After the incident, Riggs brought his car into the middle of the pits directly in front of all the fans, got out of his window and waved to the crowd. About a minute later Pollard marched down the infield to “have a talk” with Riggs at his pit stall, and about 80 fans, crew people, cops and media members followed him.
And about two minutes later Pollard was marched back down the infield and out of the stadium.
Great entertainment always needs someone to play the heel.
But tensions ran high among the drivers, and for good reason. There was $25,000 on the line. If I was in a foot race for 25 grand you can absolutely bet I’m throwing some elbows.
“Believe me, we’re all not trying to wreck each other,” Falk said with a laugh after the race. “Well, maybe there at the end they were trying to wreck each other to win that clock.”
The money, the clock, the prestige, that’s what brings out the Bubba Pollards of the racing world to this event. Pollard said in a press conference Friday he knew if he wanted to be the best short track racer in the country he’d have to prove it at The Paperclip.
“I just love short track racing. We’ve been racing super late models for quite a few years and you see Lee Pulliam, Philip Morris all those guys that are great race car drivers and you want to race against them,” Pollard said. “That’s the reason I’m here is I want to race against the best and we’re fortunate enough to get to race a lot with the Super Late Models and we’ll never move up to the NASCAR level or anything like that. So just trying to race against the best and what better way than the come here and start it at Martinsville.”
That’s another reason the Late Model race is such great entertainment. Because those who don’t know just see low-budget cars and think this is the low-level NASCAR minor leagues, but actually these are some of the best racecar drivers in the country who also happen to have day jobs.
“Most of those guys are just guys that work on their cars after work, and that’s me,” the 30-year-old Falk said. “Five o’clock rolls around and I go to the shop. It takes a lot of hard work by some really caring people and we all want that thing (the clock) really, really bad. And we only get one shot at it… This is the Daytona 500, this is the Fifa World Cup, this is Monoco, this is everything and this is what matters.”
The thing to always remember when reading comments on the internet (which you should never do, by the way) is that the most vocal are usually the minority. When it comes to big time sports, like the NFL, NBA, MLB and NASCAR, it’s not about catering to that group. Fans of racing will come to great races, and Saturday night was a great race, even if the ending wasn’t perfect.
The conventional wisdom among sports marketers is you want to appeal to the moms, to the kids, to the casual fans who could one day become more than just casual.
The race Saturday night had something for the fans who know everything there is to know about racing, and those who were just there to have a good time. There was strategy, there was a moment where we thought we might see a WWE Smackdown, there was great racing, great weather and a great atmosphere, and in the end a ceremonial finish for a great driver who was easy to root for.
How could you not have been entertained?