Remember Where It Started

It was really cool to see Mark Martin win at Phoenix and it was also cool to see him do a Polish victory lap rather than a burnout. If there is one driver competing today that will not get any grief for doing the Polish victory lap, it would be Martin simply because he and the late Alan Kulwicki raced together a lot at the local short tracks in the Midwest and were both well known names way before they made it to NASCAR.

As I approach my 38th birthday soon (May 3rd), I am reminded of the memories I have going back to I got to watch both Martin and Kulwicki compete at tracks near my home. Some of those memories are so unique that they are worth sharing.

Kulwicki was always known to be a thinker and a workhorse in racing. When he was at the track, he was always tinkering with his car while others were standing around, talking and enjoying some barley pop. I think it was in 1985 when the American Speed Association had an event at Capital Super Speedway (which is now known as Madison International Speedway). My dad took a friend and I to see qualifying and the qualifying races they had back then. Afterwards, there was a post-race party and the pits were open to everyone. My friend and I could easily walk around the pits and Mark Martin and Bob Senneker talking with a circle of friends and just enjoying the free time.

We didn’t see many of the cars because they were already loaded up for the night. But, we would walk around to the back part of the pits and there was the #28 Hardee’s late model of Kulwicki. The hood was off and Kulwicki was still in his driver’s suit working on the car.

I went up and asked for his autograph and he was very polite to stop what he was doing and sign it. I then asked if it was alright for me to take a picture of his car with my little disk camera (no this wasn’t a digital camera, Kodak actually created a camera where the film was on something that looked like a floppy disk and you could get 15 pictures on it, Google it sometime).

He said sure then asked if I wanted him to be in the picture, I said sure if you are not busy. He asked that I give him a second and he would do it. As many saw when he won the championship in 1992, he went back and combed his hair then came over and kneeled down the side of his car and I took the picture. Sadly, it was too dark and it didn’t turn out well. But, the memory is still clear today.

Mark Martin is a true gentleman of the sport and what you see on television is what you would see in person.

In 2004, I was at the American Speed Association event in Lakeland, FL and Martin happened to be there. I walked up and shook his hand and introduced myself. He asked me to follow him to the pit wall where he was asking me about the insurance requirements for a young driver to come and test at Madison International Speedway, which I was working for during that time. I gave him the contact person and he was very grateful.

A year later, Martin came with Matt Kenseth to an autograph signing at Matt’s Fan Club store in Cambridge, WI. I had a chance to see him again and interview him about his memories of Rockford Speedway’s National Short Track Championship. I told him that I met him a year ago at Lakeland and he said that he remembered me, and I believe him.

These two drivers are just a couple of the many I have come to respect in the short track racing world. That respect came from me watching them compete at the short tracks. While they may go down in history for their accomplishments in NASCAR, that is only a small list compared to what they accomplished in short track racing.

Don’t believe me, I would recommend two books both written by Father Dale Grubba. He recently released a new book called “Alan Kulwicki NASCAR Champion: Against All Odds” where he documents three decades of Kulwicki’s racing career. The second is “The Golden Age of Wisconsin Auto Racing.” This is a timeless book about short track racing in Wisconsin and you will be amazed by the names and history Father Grubba has put in this book. Both can be purchased through www.badgerbooks.com.

By the way…that young driver that Mark Martin was asking on behalf of back in 2004 was Joey Logano.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2009

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