Martinsville's Campbell embraces key spot on playoff schedule, looks toward future

·4 min read

Clay Campbell has plenty to eagerly anticipate, both in the short term and over the longer haul.

As Martinsville Speedway’s president, Campbell is busy preparing for a tripleheader weekend of events that are all crucial to the playoff picture in all three NASCAR national series. The Championship 4 field for all three tours will be determined in a span of two days.

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“What I’m looking forward to the most? Obviously looking forward to three great races, which … that’s going to happen,” Campbell said matter-of-factly during a brief break earlier this week. “Being the penultimate for all three, it’s going to be a nail-biter.”

Saturday, the Camping World Truck Series (1 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) and Xfinity Series (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) will host their Round of 8 finales. The weekend will be capped by Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) for the NASCAR Cup Series, and fans will be welcomed back without attendance limits for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak — another facet of the weekend Campbell is embracing, besides the hard work.

But Campbell has more to look forward to as the Virginia short track his grandfather founded approaches its 75th anniversary season in 2022. Plans to observe the milestone haven’t been formalized, but Campbell said to expect the celebration to span the entire year.

2021 Oct27 Clay Campbell Main Image
2021 Oct27 Clay Campbell Main Image

“We’ve been talking for months, planning ahead and we’re working on some pretty neat things that will really highlight the history of Martinsville Speedway,” Campbell said. “Our fans are going to like it, and we’ll be announcing them a little bit later, but for anybody to celebrate the 75th anniversary is pretty special. And for this place to be around that long, looking at it, it doesn’t look like it’s 75 years old. It’s got a lot of history, and we’re going to be rolling it out all year long.”

It’s hard to avoid the sense of history when walking through the gates at Martinsville, which has been a fixture on the Cup Series schedule since its first season in 1949. Pioneers, Hall of Famers and golden-era legends raced here, and the track’s tight turns remain a challenge for the current crop of stars.

But Campbell knows the facility can’t be stagnant and entirely dwell in that nostalgia. There’s a delicate balance to strike — remaining mindful of the track’s legacy but also making the updates that will sustain it for the years ahead.

“That’s one thing that I think we have done pretty good over the years, is how do you maintain that history, the heritage, the tradition, all of that and still keep moving forward, keep growing, keep improving, providing amenities that our fans expect today,” Campbell said. “You can’t do things today like you did 20, 25 years ago. You’ve got to change.

“But I think when you go through our gates here you can look back in the past, you can envision all the greats of NASCAR at some point running here. You can see what we have now, and you get a glimpse into the future. Example, we’re the oldest track on the circuit but we have the newest technology in lighting with LED lights. I think we’ve got all three — the past, the present and the future. And that’s the fine line you’ve got to walk to maintain that, but that’s what we want to do and that’s what we have to do.”

Martinsville’s place in NASCAR history has been well-established, but a newer tradition is starting to take some root with its autumn weekend playing host to the next-to-last races of the season. Martinsville first took that spot on the schedule last season, and it’ll return as the Round of 8 finale in 2022.

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NASCAR’s schedule-makers rotated some of the postseason events on next year’s calendar but made a point to keep the slate of elimination races intact. Competition officials received no argument from Campbell once the ink on next year’s schedule dried.

“It’s very important. I think it’s one of the most, if not the most critical race of the season, because you come in here with eight (title-eligible drivers) and you leave with four,” Campbell said. “So we’ve been in a position in the past when we had three races to go after our fall event, and the sparks flew and emotions ran high. So to run that event here, the penultimate race, at Martinsville Speedway, I think it’s just fantastic. We love that spot. I think it’s the best place for it. Obviously, I’m selfish on that and prejudiced, but you know the style of racing you see here is just phenomenal.”