Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Mark Martin: At 50, still in his prime...and ready again for another championship charge


Mark Martin, one of the classiest men in NASCAR (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Mark Martin will be spending Saturday night watching the action, watching the Shootout opener here, rather than playing the game.
   Blame it on NASCAR's zany rules for that thing. Martin certainly should be out on that playing field.
   And he says missing that game will be costly, since he's with a new team and needs all the practice he and his guys can get.
   But maybe that will somehow work to his advantage – his rivals have to show what they've got, while Martin can hold a few of his cards close to the vest.
   What does Martin, at 50, have to offer this sport this season?
   Well, watching the transformation of this Arkansas son-of-a-trucker growing up in this sport over the past 30 years – remember, Martin made his NASCAR Cup tour debut at North Wilkesboro Speedway back in the spring of 1981, and won his first tour pole that summer, at Nashville – this guy is indeed one of the classiest acts ever to grace the NASCAR scene.
   For so many years Mark Martin was so much doom-and-gloom, even when winning he would lament that it might be his last victory.
   The many disappointments in this sport seemed to hang much too heavy on him…and in racing, even for the best, about 90 percent of the time the day ends in disappointment. So a man better have fun enjoying that other 10 percent.
   But the past three years Martin is a changed man. The burden has been lifted. The part-time schedule has rejuvenated him. And life is filled with roses.
   Now he's back full-time, probably for the final time, before returning to a limited schedule, and he's with Rick Hendrick, as teammate with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
   Wow! That lineup sounds like a Dream Team, doesn't it?
   His new teammates are curious to see just what he brings to the table. And his legion of fans too – Mark Martin may have as many fans as Dale Earnhardt Jr., to be honest, for one thing because he's got such a reputation for hard, clean racing.


   Rick Hendrick (C) is celebrating his 25th season on the NASCAR Cup tour, here flanked by (L-R) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin (Photo: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)


The championship? The Cup title he's come so close to winning so many times, only to come up short?
   "No, that was not what drove me to take this," Martin says. 
   "What drove me to take this was Rick Hendrick…Hendrick Motorsports…Jeff and Jimmie and Dale Jr….and (crew chief) Alan Gustafson…and an opportunity to drive a blazing-fast race car that could win a race. 
   "That's why I did it. 
    "That's one of the great things -- it doesn't feel like work, it feels like a real privilege.
    "All this other stuff, we'll see about. 
    "You have to climb some hills before you can stand at the top of the mountain. 
    "I've got hills to climb this year before we talk about standing on top of the mountain. 
    "You have to understand that in 2009 we have plenty of hills to climb before we can even discuss all that. 
    "Obviously it would be incredible if we could just make the chase, because then we'd have a chance. 
    "And we're starting a little bit behind as a team; we haven't had an opportunity to work together yet, and we're not in the Shootout -- which puts us at a major disadvantage. I feel really left out because there are 28 cars in the Shootout, more than ever, and this is the first time in 20 years I haven't been in that race.
    "So we won't even hit the track in race trim until Wednesday. 
    "We have a lot more important things to be worried about than trying to worry about whether or not we can win that Cup."


Tony Gibson (L) gave Mark Martin some great cars during their years together. Gibson is now Ryan Newman's crew chief. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


It's Daytona, a 500 he's never won, and that controversial 2007 finish still lingers in everyone's minds. If NASCAR had thrown the caution when it should have been thrown……
   "I try not to think about 2007 that much," Martin says. "And I don't…until you force it in there, until you just shove it right back in there.
    "And I try not to think about some other years when things even went worse than that.
    "I'm going to be driving a Hendrick Motorsports car, and working with the brightest crew chief -- I had no idea how incredibly bright Alan Gustafson was until I had a chance to go testing with him a few times.
   "He is absolutely undiscovered by the media.  He has not been discovered yet.
    "So what's smart is to think about how do I make the most out of this opportunity?  What can I do to make the most out of it….instead of getting all giddy about 'This might be the best car I ever had at Daytona.'"
   And one thing driving Martin extra hard this year is easy to see – with teammates like his three, "I don't want to get embarrassed," Martin said bluntly.
   "I really want them to say I brought something to the table. 
    "That's my challenge. 
    "So I'm going to have to find a way to bring something to the table for these guys. They're some of the greatest there have ever been."

   It is almost an afterthought that Martin is 50, while the field is dotted with many young enough to be his kids….like 18-year-old Joey Logano, the kid that Martin himself has been boasting about for five or six years now as the next greatest star in NASCAR. This SpeedWeeks Logano gets to show what he's got.
   "He's gotten a lot of advice from me already, and I'm very proud of him," Martin says of Logano. "My biggest concern for him – and I'm certain he will be a Cup champion -- was for him to stay humble…because when you're as good as he is, it's not always easy.
    "He appears to be hanging on to that fairly well.  I was very proud of him in his recent interviews. He appeared to be humble, and that's not always easy."
   Age?  "I do feel like I'm carrying that banner," Martin says. "That's part of the appeal to some fans -- some of them are aging themselves, and they love the idea of being able to still hold their own against a 25-year-old, whether it be softball or whatever.
   "Let's face it, there's a huge difference physically; we've all experienced that. 
    "Things have changed here, and we are the contrast to all that -- and hopefully I can bring a little balance. 
    "There has been an emphasis on 'young' drivers. And I was the one talking about it first, when everybody thought there was something wrong with me…
    "A lot of people don't know a lot of things….and even I don't know everything about everybody in the sport and their history and where they came from and what they did.  In 1981 I was doing things that most 22-year-olds hadn't done in NASCAR."
   And then that part of his career blew up, and he vanished, and he had to make a comeback, which he did in spectacular fashion, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in some legendary duels with Dale Earnhardt.
    "I was a kid then, and some of the guys, hardened crew chiefs like Jake Elder, said I was too little to drive these cars," Martin recalls. "I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now.
   "I ran third at Martinsville with no power-steering and with single-piston short-track brakes…without all the good stuff.  It was actually before power-steering, and I was 130 pounds back then and didn't even lift weights."

Alan Gustafson: a hidden gem of a crew chief at Rick Hendrick's (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Now, ironically after nearly 30 years in the sport, Martin is facing more high-expectations.
   "The first thing that pops in my mind is to look the other way," he says.
    "And I've done a lot of 'looking the other way' in my career, a lot. 
     "I've read a lot the last month, and expectations are very high, from you guys.
    "Falling short of that, because the line is so high, it would be easy for that to happen. 
   "I love this sport. This is my whole life.  This is what I think about all the time. 
    "That's why for me to go sit on the couch for the rest of my life….I once thought that's what I wanted to do. And I was pretty happy there for a month or two. All of 2007 I was fine. But in 2008 I was having more fun at the races than ever before.
    "And it came more and more clear to me. 
    "I understand expectations are high. They're very high for Mr. Hendrick, and they're very high for my three teammates, and they're very high from Alan and my team.
    "So if you're asking me how I manage all that internally, I'm going to tell you I'm just looking over here instead of look over there at that -- because I'm obsessive-compulsive…. and I don't need to be obsessing and compulsing over whether I'm going to meet their expectations. 
   "If I drive as well as I drove last year, and they give me the kind of cars I had last year (when driving for Tony Gibson at DEI) -- which were really incredible, part of the time last year – then, bad luck or not, I should be able to meet those expectations. 
    "I can say that, mentally and physically, I have never put so much into the preparation. 
    "So I have put hours and hours into my physical and mental and nutritional programs, to prepare myself.
    "I've learned a tremendous amount of stuff about nutrition. I've learned some more about physical fitness, and I've expanded that area, I'm doing more, I've added a lot more.
    "Wednesday, for example, I spent from seven till 12. The weights and the cardio took an hour and a half, but after that I did something else, and then did something else.
    "I'm doing other things than just the weights, like I did for a long time.
    "I know I'm not 25. I know where I'm at."
    A more physically fit Mark Martin?
   Now that is downright scary.


Mark Martin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com