MARTINSVILLE, Va. (WGHP) – Martinsville Speedway hosts two NASCAR race weekends a year and several other high-profile racing weekends, but this week’s test at the half-mile paperclip by the Mazda MX-5 Cup series (not to be confused with the NASCAR Cup Series) is getting a lot of attention.
This road racing spec series is exclusively a road course series. Until now, it has never been on an oval.
The two-day test culminated with NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Bobby Labonte racing the MX-5s around the track for a dozen or so laps, leaving them both smiling from ear to ear.
This is the first time a convertible has been on this track since 1959 when NASCAR ran a convertible division. Martinsville Speedway Track President Clay Campbell hopes this this test is a hint of what’s to come. The cars are sporty, fast and fun to watch, and they’re real stock cars.
“These are as close to what you see in the showroom as you get … It’s pretty much what you get with the tweaks that they’ve done to make them race cars,” Campbell said.
Several of the drivers from the Mazda MX-5 Cup gave the car and the track a full shakedown. Campbell joined Dale Jr. and Labonte on the track to get a feel for the car and give a little feedback from the NASCAR driver’s perspective.
“For an oval guy like me to come drive this car and know what this car feels like and drives like even at an oval is incredible, so I’m getting a little bit of an understanding of what their world’s like,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “There’s a lot less power. It’s about a second slower than … the Cup cars, all the stock cars that race around here, so a lot of speed on the straightaway that the car doesn’t have, but you’re making up for it in the middle of the corner.”
“Obviously, I’ve run a few laps and come in smiling from ear to ear,” Labonte said. “It drives different than what I’m used to, so … it took a little while to figure out.”
Campbell isn’t any ordinary track president. He has a racing pedigree and has spent a good portion of his life behind the wheel of a racecar.
“I’ve driven most everything here except the (NACAR) Cup car, and this was the most fun right here,” Campbell said.
He hopes the test turns into a real race date. That’s the idea behind the test: see if the car and the series could put on a good show if it raced on an oval track like Martinsville.
“The possibilities going forward of running them here, it’s great, and that’s the goal,” Campbell said, “And from what I see from the test yesterday and today, everything is going to well. The drivers are liking it. It’s more than we could ask for really.”
“To be able to put it and showcase these guys, talents, and obviously the cars, too, in front of so many people that wouldn’t normally see it, but if they’re already here … they can come watch this,” Labonte said.
It certainly was fun from the driver’s seat.
Now they want to gauge fan reaction to the test and come up with a plan that may have these little road racers only turning left for the day.