Two big challenges await Danica Patrick as she looks toward Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
The first and most important challenge is figuring out how to drive the tricky .526-mile paperclip oval that her crew chief Tony Gibson describes as “a tough place for any veteran to go, let alone a rookie.” Martinsville opened for business in 1947, two years before NASCAR was formed, and has a history rivaled by few tracks on the circuit. Every NASCAR champion has raced there and the Sprint Cup Series has conducted events at Martinsville twice a year since 1950.
So, given its extensive history, it’s a challenge to add something to the history books that isn’t already there. But Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will add her name to the record book as she will be the first female driver to qualify and race at Martinsville.
But the primary goal is not just to add her name to the record book in such a way. She’s focused on getting experience and learning one of the most challenging tracks on the schedule. At .526 of a mile, Martinsville is the shortest track on the circuit and, from the air, looks like a paperclip as its long straightaways lead into tight, flat turns. The racing there can be described as “give-and-take” with drivers giving some bumps and taking some bumps as 43 cars fight for space on its tight confines.
Patrick and the Go Daddy team prepared for Martinsville by testing last month at “Little Rock,” a purpose-built test track in Rockingham, N.C., designed to feature the characteristics of Martinsville. But while the test was productive, Patrick and Gibson know well that the test can only help so much and that there is no replacement for the real Martinsville experience.
That said, part of the “real” Martinsville experience, off the track, is the world famous Martinsville Hot Dog. A popular staple at Martinsville, the hot dog is covered with slaw, chili, fresh onions and a few other secret ingredients, and wrapped in waxed paper. And that brings up the second challenge as Gibson told Patrick it’s bad karma to not have a hot dog when racing at the half-mile track. So, in addition to stomaching the tricky track, she also may feel obligated to stomach a Martinsville Hot Dog, something easier said than done for some people.
But as the great Clark Griswold once said: “It’s all part of the experience.”