MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- NASCAR Racing is back on the East Coast this weekend and right in the backyard of the Piedmont Triad. The STP 500 at Martinsville this Sunday is the first short track race of the NASCAR season on the half-mile paperclip-shaped track.
It's just a 45 minute drive north of Greensboro and it's celebrating it's 70th season hosting NASCAR
To preview that race, the track and Ford Motor Company brought in the legendary Wood Brothers and their current driver, a High Point native, Ryan Blaney.
When NASCAR first raced at Martinsville 70 years ago, the track was dirt and there wasn't much else around. Leonard Wood should know, he’s a legend in NASCAR, a Hall of Famer and he was here watching that first year and can tell stories from every year since.
His team has hosted many popular and winning drivers. Currently the 21 car is driven by Blaney, a 2nd generation NASCAR driver who’s ready for the big race at what he considers his home track.
“I grew up closer to here than I did Charlotte Motor Speedway so yeah, this is kind of a home track for me and I have a lot of friends and family that come back and watch this race. I’ve been coming here ever since I can remember. This is probably the race I’ve come to the most as a kid just cause it was so close to our house where I grew up when my dad was racing,” Blaney said.
On Wednesday, Blaney gave ride-a-longs in the Ford Mustang GT350 that will be the pace car this weekend -- a chance for Ford to showcase the car, and the track he’ll be muscling around come Sunday.
“You know, Ford’s done a great job of developing the Mustang over the years and I have one of these cars at home that I bought because I thought they were so cool when they came out,” Blaney said.
But in his race car, it’s a 500 lap game of don’t tear your equipment up too early or you’ll find yourself behind the wall.
“Long straightaways, short turns and it’s hard on equipment and brakes and so you gotta pace yourself, got to think about it before the race how you need to run this race so it’s a very fun race to win,” Wood said.
What will it take for Ryan Blaney to get his first NASCAR cup series win and that grandfather clock trophy that Martinsville gives away? Blaney says staying calm in the car, emotionless and cool.
“I think that’s the best thing to do and just try to keep a cool head and, granted that hasn’t really been the case before. I’ve gotten really emotional here and it takes you a while to calm back down but you can never really run well when your like that, when you’re hot in the head.”
He’s creeping closer to the front every week. The race at Martinsville would certainly be an exciting one.
“Our cars have been fast enough this year where it’s really nice to be competitive every single week; coming out and just stay out of trouble and hopefully we can find ourselves up toward the front at the end. If we do that we’ll have a shot at it," he said.
Wood would love to have another grandfather clock too. The last time the Wood Brothers won at Martinsville was 1973 with driver David Pearson. And even though only the driver and crew chief usually get a clock, the track made one available to Leonard and Glenn Wood also.
“It’ll mean a lot for sure, it’ll be a really good feeling to make that happen,” Blaney said.