MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Ross Chastain‘s daring last-lap thrash will forever be memorialized in NASCAR lore.
Chastain visited the historic 0.526-mile paperclip-shaped short track on Tuesday, climbed into a Kubota forklift and helped remove part of the SAFER barrier in Turns 3 and 4, the site of his famed ‘Hail Melon‘ move that propelled him into the Championship 4 of the NASCAR Cup Series in 2022.
The removed portion of the wall will be preserved to commemorate the wall ride heard around the world when Chastain propelled himself around the perimeter of the white steel barriers to launch past four cars — earning enough points to leap into the championship round of the sport‘s premier level.
Four months later, Chastain still struggles to fathom it was him piloting the blur of the No. 1 Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing that pounded the wall in a somehow-successful move that only seemed plausible in video games before Oct. 30, 2022.
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There‘s been plenty of time to reflect, especially considering NASCAR officials outlawed the move from any legality moving forward. As he stood next to the 20-foot section of removed steel sitting on the edge of the concrete and asphalt, Chastain could only think of the magnitude that moment carried — for his team, for his season and for himself.
“It’s more about what it provided for us at the time,” Chastain told NASCAR.com. “It’s not about now. It’s about the wall and what this will symbolize for us forever. I mean, this thing will never be touched. It will always be dirty, scratched up and scraped to the end of time. And for me, that’s just a good, physical large reminder of what that did. It let us go fight for a championship the next week in Phoenix.”
Rare are moments that transcend the NASCAR universe. Rarer are those that don‘t focus on the race winner or a multicar incident. Christopher Bell pulled off one of the ultimate win-and-in playoff moments for the second time in as many rounds by scoring the victory that day at Martinsville.
But it was what Chastain did — in need of two points to advance to the next round while running 10th on the final lap and rocketing around the wall to a fifth-place finish (fourth, following post-race inspection) — that went viral on every platform one could imagine.
“It is amazing that something like this, that we’re not talking about the winner,” Clay Campbell, Martinsville Speedway president, told NASCAR.com. “We’re not talking about anything else that happened on the track. We’re talking about the move that Ross made, the ‘Hail Melon.‘
“Usually, when something takes precedent over the race win itself, it’s usually not for a good reason. This was for a perfectly good reason. So many people were so amazed by it. The talk that it generated at the water cooler on Monday was off the charts. The exposure that that got — social media, television, it was the talk of everybody. And it still is. So, you know, it’s just it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”
What ensures it as a single moment time is NASCAR officials‘ decision to ban the move in future events, citing the already-existing Section 10.5.2.6.A in the sanctioning body‘s rule book which notes, in part: “Any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness.”
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Trackhouse co-owner Justin Marks was already considering preserving the No. 1 car for as long as possible before the move was forbidden. That became definitive after recognizing the history surrounding that particular moment and car.
“I wanted the whole car to stay, and there was a point that we weren’t sure,” Chastain said. “And then once the rule came out, and they updated everything — and I’m glad NASCAR did. I think it was the right call. I don’t want to get beat by it, for sure. I don’t want to do it again to beat somebody. So I just want to beat them straight up.
“And the rule cemented that the car and the wall and, like I said earlier, it’s all staying intact. And we’ll be able to use this. This is a bright spot for our sport. It‘s a bright spot for this track, and selfishly, it’s a bright spot for me.”
Where the wall will rest is still to be determined. The SAFER barrier may reside in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, temporarily, or it may find its way to Trackhouse’s shop in Concord.
No matter where it sits, the moment will remain unforgettable.