By Matt de Simone
There is nothing like the smell of jet dryers in the morning.
NASCAR returns to Martinsville Speedway this Thursday night. With the roar of the engines comes the roar of the crowd. For the first time since the 2020 pandemic, the speedway will host fans up to a 30% capacity.
An additional “first” for the speedway features a three-night event where the Whelen Modified Tour, Xfinity Series, and NASCAR Cup Series all stage their races under the lights. The speedway has never hosted three NASCAR night races on consecutive evenings.
“Three nights of racing—you wrap that up in one word, and that’s ‘excitement,’” Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said in a recent phone interview. “You take the excitement that you see here from any kind of racing is pretty phenomenal. So, to have the modifieds on Thursday night, Xfinity on Friday night, and the Cup cars on Saturday—I think the fans are in for a treat. It should be a great weekend of racing.”
Last fall, the speedway allowed a limited amount of people to attend the playoff race. On Thursday, the speedway expects to get close to that “30%.” However, with social distancing measures still in place, Campbell plans to have a crowd just under that percentage.
“We’re fortunate that the Commonwealth of Virginia and Governor Northam loosened the restriction and going up to 30%,” Campbell stated. “We’re doing things a little bit different, obviously, than what we would do under normal circumstances. We have social distancing in the grandstands and concourses, hand-washing/sanitizing stations all over the property. There are numerous things that we came up with to keep our fans safe.
“We’re still working on the re-seating of people,” Campbell continued. “It’s 30%, but we can get to that number because of the distancing. Everything will be open, unlike last year when we had only 1,000 fans on the front stretch. This year, every grandstand seat will be open.”
The race weekend kicks off Thursday night with the Whelen Modified Tour Virginia Is for Racing Lovers 200 at 8 p.m. The following night, the Xfinity Series fires off the Cook Out 250 at 8 p.m. The finale comes on Saturday night when the NASCAR Cup Series presents the Blue-Emu Maximum Relief 500, also at 8 p.m.