When Martinsville Speedway opened its doors to Late Model Stock Cars in 1985, the race was a hit with weekly racing competitors. Local legends that ran up and down the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic region took to the historic paperclip. The race took the best competitors from each of their home tracks all to one circuit. The list of famous race drivers that competed in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 is a long one.
Before 1995 Late Model Stock cars were a part of the NASCAR weekends at Martinsville until the truck series was a part of the preliminary races to the Cup Series. Short Track drivers from around the country chomped at the bit to race on the same track as the top teams and drivers in the NASCAR ranks. Teams flocked to the .526-mile facility. It was the dream to steer their perimeter chassis Late Models around the tight low-banked confines in Henry County Virginia. Drivers such as Curtis Markham and Barry Beggarly dominated the early years of Late Model Stocks on track. Markham scored four victories to Beggarly’s three wins in the 10 years before moving to one date in the fall. The notable drivers from the top three national series that scored wins in these events were Elton Sawyer, Dennis Setzer, and Mike Skinner.
Since 1988 Clay Campbell has been the track president at Martinsville Speedway. Campbell is a racer himself. Campbell has competed in local short track racing, the Allison Legacy Series, K&N Pro Series East, ASA competition, and ARCA. He finished third in an ARCA Menards Series race at Daytona in 2014 at the tender age of 54.
In 1995 Campbell and his team at Martinsville decided to host a single 300 lap event in the fall. They made it one of the highest paying Late Model Stock Car events in the nation. The 200 lap race with its qualifying races underwent a few name changes from the Taco Bell 300 to the Bailey’s 300, and the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300. Campbell understands what the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 means to all of the drivers and teams with dreams of prestige and a grandfather clock in their eyes.
“It was tough in the spring when all the short tracks were just getting their season started,” Campbell mentioned. “The teams didn’t want to come here before the season and potentially tear up their equipment. We moved it to the fall only and put up a huge payout as a reward for a season of hard work. For years this has been the event everybody wants to win, Campbell said. The prestige that comes with the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 is even bigger than the $110,000 purse, the $32,000 to the winner and the $1,000 to start the race which is unheard of in Late Model racing. I always say that the money is temporary, but the bragging rights are forever. It can help you get to that elite level.”
Campbell is grateful for the relationship that Henry county, the city of Martinsville, and the community of Ridgeway have maintained with the racetrack. It’s been a team effort since the inception of Martinsville Speedway. Their success is a testament to the legacy they have produced since Clay’s grandfather, H. Clay Earles, founded the track in 1947.
“It’s a work in progress, we’ll never be finished with it to keep improving, that’s just what we do to maintain our presence and be relevant. We couldn’t operate this place without a relationship with the city and the county and state. We’re very blessed to be here. You’ll see this weekend, we’ve got the Henry county fair. That’s new to the area, new to us to host the fair. It evolved to doing it at the same time as the race week. I’m grateful we get to be such a big part of the community here.”
Drivers like Timothy Peters, Robert Powell, Mike Looney, CE Falk, Lee Pulliam, Tommy Lemons Jr, Jake Crum, and others have taken home Ridgeway Grandfather Clocks after Valleystar victories. Many competitors from the CARS Late Model Stock Tour have put their entries in. Kaden Honeycut, Justin Johnson, Layne Riggs, Connor Jones, Jonathan Findley, Jonathan Shafer, and countless others looking for their shot at 32K.
In the recent past, the number of teams that entered the event has dwindled slightly. While the big-name teams in Late Model Stock Car competition remain in competition with 2021’s entry list creeping near eighty cars, the race used to have well over 120 entries. Factors differ as to why there are fewer teams than in the late ’90s and 2000s. Plenty of the deciding factors have to do with cost. But from a competition standpoint, Clay Campbell sees it as a tightening of the gap.
“I think what you’re seeing now is the new norm. Compared to the 100 or so plus car counts you had it from one extreme to the other. You had cars that could win or be in the top ten. You had cars that would probably struggle to be in the last 30 or 40 positions. The majority of them are top-notch teams that put money into it, it costs money to compete. That’s the nature of racing, it’s competitive. Years ago, you didn’t have to drive far down the road. When there was such a thing as a service station, it probably had a racecar in the bay, or out in somebody’s backyard. We’ve gotten more professional because a lot of these guys want to take that next step. Many of them have aspirations of moving up that ladder.”
The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 is the pivotal final event of the Virginia Triple Crown that includes the Hampton Heat in Langley and the Thunder Road Harley Davidson 200 at South Boston. It will have a $110,000 purse with $32,000 to the victor. The 200 lap feature will run in three segments 75 laps, 75 laps, and 50 laps. Stage winners each earn $1,000. Competitors are allotted four hours of practice on two sets of tires and single-car qualifying the night before.
The race procedure mimics Daytona qualifying, with the top two cars on the grid getting a guaranteed spot first and second on the grid in the feature. The pole winner receives a $5,000 bonus. $5,000 is typically what Late Model Stock Car drivers are awarded from winning some of the larger local and regional races. To determine the rest of the 40-car field, the remaining cars will line up for four heat races. Unlike in some events in years past, there will be no last chance race.
“It’s such a huge race, and we’re fortunate to have it on NBC Trackpass and broadcasted on MRN,” said Campbell. “The race itself has been elevated to a much much higher level than it was years ago. It’s big, and to see competitors that run these weekly tracks throughout the year come here and run, that pleases me. I can sum it up by saying look at what Josh Berry did in 2019 when he won this race. Then he comes back here and wins the Xfinity race. He got so emotional about it. He said ‘this is for all the short track guys in the country. It shows you can do it, you can make it.’ I think that’s perfect.”
Cover photo by David Allio/racingphotoarchives.com