MONTE DUTTON - SALMON IN A CAN
A track is an expansive term in my list of favorites. I do not confine my definition to the property alone.
I loved North Wilkesboro for the racing on the track, the food in the press box, the Williams Motel and the Captain’s Table up the hill. Phoenix I valued for the view from South Mountain State Park. Talk shows at Talladega. Steaks in Kansas City. Music in Texas. Big-league baseball in the Bay Area. Minor leagues all around Fontana.
Martinsville, Virginia, has no casino. Rappers do not commonly hang out in the pits before a race. As a general rule, pro wrestlers do not even hang out in the pits before a race. Once several colleagues and I attended a pro wrestling show put on at the high school gym in nearby Stuart.
The oldest track where NASCAR continues to race – not just once but twice each year – doesn’t have any gimmick. It has no gaudy nickname because it is not gaudy. When H. Clay Earles opened the joint in 1946, it was for racing. It still has that, and it’s still enough.
A Martinsville race is a trip back in time. Imagine a race track in Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show. Imagine the first time you watched Back to the Future, or Peggy Sue Got Married, or It’s a Wonderful Life.
As little Zusu told her daddy, Every time a tire blows, an angel gets his wings!
Since the century turned, NASCAR has given fans so many gifts they didn’t want. Martinsville Speedway’s grandfather clocks, a substitute for the winner’s trophy, are perfectly symbolic of why this track is so marvelously different. Why do they give a clock? Because that’s what they do. That’s why. Old Man Earles concocted it one day, perhaps while he was pondering a poker hand.
Know what I’m gonna do, boys? I’m gonna buy me a big old grandfather clock and give it to the winner of the Old Dominion 500. Why that’s a dadburn good idea, H. Clay. It’s liable to catch on. Call. What you got? Jacks over tens, boys, jacks over tens.
Years ago, when Mr. Earles was still alive, the drivers all left the track by walking through the grandstands beyond turns one and two. The press box was and is still there, though now it’s a different one and the winner never visits for a media conference. I’d sit up there, behind my laptop, watching Harry Gant being slapped on the back by men wearing Massey Ferguson caps ad beige coveralls.
This week, once again, people who don’t really appreciate Martinsville’s hot dogs will write about them. The hot dogs are the only parts of Martinsville Speedway I won’t miss. We’ve got some good ones, in a similar style, available locally at Whiteford’s Drive-In and Wilson’s Snack Bar. I might pick up a couple on the way home from the ballgame.
I’m more likely to pine for supper at Clarence’s Steak House, a little way’s south on Highway 220. Clarence’s is the kind of a place where you just tell the waitress you want a hamburger steak plate and sweet tea and let her take care of the rest. It’s the home of the great Martinsville exchange, hoity-toity writer to waitress who should be named Flo if she isn’t.
“Ma’am, how’s your salmon?”
“Oh, it’s in a can.”