By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – If there’s anyone who should know just how much racing at Martinsville has changed over the years, the man with all the answers is the King.
The unparalleled master of short track racing in NASCAR’s premier series, Richard Petty accumulated the most wins (15), most top fives (30) and most top 10s (37) at the .526-mile speedway.
But in Petty’s day, success at Martinsville — site of Sunday’s STP 500 (1 p.m. ET on FS1) — was as much about running at the end as it was about racing at the end of the event.
“It used to be that we had all kinds of brake problems and rear end problems and all that, and half of the cars fell out of the race,” Petty said on Saturday morning before the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at the track nicknamed the ‘Paper Clip.’ “Now they start the race, and if they don’t crash, nobody has a problem.
“The cars are so much better as far as being able to run a whole race. It used to be survival, but now they race each other. Even though we raced each other then, a lot of us didn’t survive. Now, they don’t worry that much about surviving. For the long part of the deal, it makes a better race out of it because you’ve got more cars running at the end of the race racing against each other.”
In Petty’s heyday, taking care of the brakes was the number one assignment, and the ability do so was crucial to Petty’s short-track success.
“We knew what it took to run 500 laps, and back in the day you had drum brakes, and when the race was over there probably wasn’t but two or three cars on the track that had brakes.
“We would just idle around and run half the race and when everybody wore their brakes out, then we would start racing. That was our advantage up here, I think. It wasn’t that we ran that much better, but we could just race at the end of the race where a lot of people couldn’t.”
Image: Bob Leverone/NASCAR via Getty Images