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Burton’s Martinsville Speedway career had humble beginning


MARTINSVILLE — Jeff Burton has long called Martinsville Speedway his home track, and it’s no surprise. The Sprint Cup star’s roots run deep at the historic Virginia track, and not just because it is less than an hour from his hometown.

The South Boston native spent many Sunday afternoons with his family as a child watching short-track veterans battle it out in Modified and Late Model Sportsman (now Nationwide Series) races at Martinsville. 

“I started going to Martinsville long before I started racing. I was going as a kid, watching races there, sitting on those concrete grandstands and watching Richie Evans and Sonny Hutchens and all those guys race there,” Burton said Tuesday during a media event at the Richard Childress Racing shops promoting the October 27 Goody’s™ Headache Relief Shot™ 500 Powered by Kroger at Martinsville. 

By 1985 the teenaged Burton had started racing Late Model Stock cars at South Boston Speedway on Saturday nights, but it was a raw rookie operation at best. 

“I had raced at South Boston for a year and had no success. It was me and Stacy Puryear (who still races Late Models) working on the car. He wasn’t old enough to drive so he would ride his bicycle to my shop to work on the car,” Burton recalled with a chuckle. “We were working on the car and we didn’t know what we were doing. We had one other guy who would come over and watch us, but he didn’t really work. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we had a good time.”

 And then one Sunday afternoon while listening to the radio while working on his race car, Burton’s racing career was changed forever.

 “So, I’m working at my shop on my Late Model and there was a Cup race MRN (Motor Racing Network) was broadcasting and (Martinsville Speedway founder) Clay Earles was on there and he announced they were going to have a Late Model race at Martinsville. I’m like … ‘what did he just say?’ It was shocking to me that I would have an opportunity to run a Late Model at Martinsville because it was a track I had gone to and seen so many races and never thought I would get a chance to race there.”

 Over 120 cars showed up for that first Martinsville Speedway Late Model race in 1985, and for Burton, it was truly David versus Goliath.

 “The first race I ran at Martinsville I had a really old car with a Buick Regal body on it,” Burton said, laughing again. “Everybody had Firebirds and Trans Ams and we had a Buick Regal.”

 But Burton had extra incentive.

 “My dad said if you make the race I’ll buy you a new car. Well, we made the race and I’m like ‘wow’,” Burton said.

 “That was the first real opportunity I had to go say ’let’s go build a car’ that was right. And that all happened by making the race at Martinsville,” said Burton. 

Burton will be attempting to make his 39th NASCAR Sprint Cup start at Martinsville Speedway in the Goody’s™ Headache Relief Shot™ 500 Powered by Kroger on October 27. Not bad for a kid who didn’t know how to work on his first race car.