KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – 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.”
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your overall thoughts on Martinsville? “I am actually really excited about Martinsville. I like the little short tracks. They’re fun. We’re going to be close racing a lot of the time. We went testing out at Little Rock (Rockingham, N.C.) and got a feel for a track like Martinsville. I thought we actually made some really big gains that day. It was fun. Is there time to look down at your water and oil temperatures? No, there’s not. I think it will be fun and I had no idea that a woman had not competed at Martinsville (in Sprint Cup), but I guess these are things I’ll find out along the way.”
You’ve been to five different tracks this season. Which ones do you feel most comfortable at and which ones are you not so comfortable at? “I feel like it’s pretty obvious that Daytona would be my answer to which track makes me feel most comfortable. I think that in Phoenix we were starting to get a little bit closer in the race and we blew the tire. I feel relatively comfortable at short tracks. I think the mile-and-a-half’s are, oddly enough, I feel like one of the bigger challenges because, if the car isn’t right, there are so many more lanes to race on that the leaders come really fast. You’re working at a higher speed and that grip is a premium. We’re going to find our good races and bad races and I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be about what kind of track it is. I think our speedway stuff is really good at this point.”
Tony Gibson says its bad karma if you don’t eat a world famous Martinsville Hot Dog. Your thoughts? “I would do anything for good karma so, if that involves eating a Martinsville hot dog, then I’ll do it. Do I have to eat the whole thing? With the chili and slaw and everything? I’ll do my best as that sort of meal is not generally in my everyday diet (laughs), but I look forward to the good karma the Martinsville Hot Dog will bring.”
You had the chance to participate in the 135th White House Easter Egg Roll, and you read Dr. Seuss’ “Go Dog Go” to a few young children Monday. Talk about that. “It was an amazing experience. It’s such an honor to get to go to The White House and I really enjoyed it. I got to read Dr. Seuss’ ‘Go Dog Go’ to the kids and that was a lot of fun. I love kids and they’re so much fun to be around, and it’s pretty flattering when they tell you that you’re their role model or hero. It’s really humbling. Go Daddy helped make the trip happen and I can’t thank them enough. It was a great time.”
TONY GIBSON, Crew chief of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are you overall thoughts on Martinsville? “It’s a tough place – it’s a tough place for any veteran to go, let alone a rookie. It’s going to be a big challenge for her. It’s worse than Bristol because you’re constantly in traffic and guys are constantly bumping into you and into the side of you. Martinsville will be her biggest challenge, for sure, and the focus will be just on finishing clean and learning as much as she can so we can prepare for the second time she goes to Martinsville in the fall. If she can do that, she’ll be in good shape.”
You’ve been racing in the Sprint Cup Series for a long time. Talk about the historic significance of Martinsville. “It’s one of those places where there’s a lot of history. It’s like Darlington, where it’s been around forever. It makes or breaks a lot of racecar drivers. When you go into a place like that, you don’t want it to be a bad experience. You want to have a positive experience and be part of the history, not part of the negative history. I enjoy going there and racing where some of the greats have raced. It’s neat for us that she’ll be the first woman to ever race in a Sprint Cup race at Martinsville. It’s cool to be part of that history, especially at a place like Martinsville that has been around so long.”
Are you going to encourage her to eat a world famous Martinsville Hot Dog when she’s at Martinsville? “Heck, yeah. You can’t go to Martinsville and not eat a hot dog. That’s a big tradition and it’s bad karma if you don’t have one when you’re there.”