JOURNALIST TOM HIGGINS RECALLS THREE SPECIAL MARTINSVILLE RACES
MARTINSVILLE, Va. (Oct. 15, 2010) – For more than two decades, Tom Higgins chronicled NASCAR Sprint Cup racing and its personalities in The Charlotte Observer, painting a picture of the sport that earned him national recognition and his induction into the National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame next year.
NOTE: TUMS is the sponsor of the TUMS Fast Relief 500, the sixth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 24.
A Western North Carolina native, Higgins often sat in Martinsville Speedway's press box and marveled at Dale Earnhardt's approach to the short track. The seven-time NASCAR champion often appeared to be enjoying a Sunday afternoon drive, laying his right arm on the roll cage while steering his race car with only one hand.
However, there were three races during the years that stand out in the personable man's mind. One was the Sept. 23, 1979, Old Dominion 500. It was Buddy Baker's second and last short-track victory, and his only win at the 0.526-mile Martinsville track.
"Buddy led the final 207 laps and won despite having no brakes for almost all of the distance," Higgins recalled. "He said with a car that handled as well as his Ranier Chevy that he didn't need brakes. Buddy won by 18 seconds over Richard Petty."
Next on Higgins' memorable list was the April 28, 1985, Sovran Bank 500.
"Harry Gant's victory in this race came just two days after he stated that NASCAR should 'get rid of all its short tracks’," Higgins said. "Naturally, the first questions Harry heard when he came to the press box were about his blast against short tracks. Harry made the usual excuse 'I was misquoted.' Then, someone played Harry a tape of him making the remark. Harry glowed red in embarrassment, then claimed he meant NASCAR should get rid of heavier cars on short tracks.
"Martinsville Speedway owner Clay Earles was not amused. He didn't take kindly to anyone criticizing his track. Clay, known to carry a firearm, said he had a pistol and he was willing to use it. Few, if any, drivers downgraded Martinsville again."
The third race at the forefront of Higgins' memories was the Sept. 27, 1988, Goody's 500.
"Darrell Waltrip, running third on the last lap, got 'two for one' in an accident that enabled him to win," Higgins explained. "Waltrip wrecked both Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt entering turn three and raced around them as they spun. After the race, Waltrip exulted in the press box, 'I shot into Terry, he shot into Dale and I shot into the lead.'
"Earnhardt and Labonte recovered to finish second and third. Both howled in anger. Earnhardt demanded that Waltrip be 'put in the penalty box.' NASCAR officials checked video tape, declared the incident a 'racing accident' and refused to take any action."
Higgins' memorable moments clearly show the one thing the fans and teams can expect at Martinsville Speedway is the unexpected.