Mark Martin wasn’t wearing a firesuit when he made his first track appearance since November of 2013 this past weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But his logoed shirts were just as eye-catching.
At 57, Martin wasn’t representing a sponsor, and he had no team obligations to fulfill. But his attire said it all as a NASCAR Hall of Fame logo sat proudly displayed on the upper left of his chest. As of last Wednesday, Martin is no longer just a former driver; he’s one of the newest members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
As a result, he was back in the middle of the activity he spent the better part of 30 years being a large part of. Named the pace car driver for the 57th annual Coca-Cola 600, Martin addressed the media on Saturday before participating in numerous events Sunday evening.
Through it all the smile many remember the long-time Ford driver with was etched on his face. Only now the case could be made that Martin is positively glowing because of his Hall of Fame inclusion, and no matter how many times he was shuffled from one thing to another at Charlotte, it was like he was treating it and everyone like the first time.
Or at least with a much different perspective because being back in the spotlight is not where Mark Martin thought he’d be this soon after walking away from it.
Martin had made peace with it all.
With the championship finishes (five times he finished the runner-up; four others he was third). His lack of a Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 win. It was done and in the past and driving racecars was finally in his past, too.
After years of expressing his desire to retire, or at least scale back, Martin was never able to officially walk away until he finished his substitution role and climbed out of the Tony Stewart’s No. 14 at Homestead-Miami Speedway a little over two years ago.
Since then, Martin has been adamant to everyone who has asked – either in person or on social media – that he is no longer a racecar driver. If given the opportunity to be one again, he wouldn’t take it. His career is done and over with, and Martin is content with that being the case.
“What I loved about racing cars was being one of the best, being good at it, and at a certain period in your career when you get older, and you are less effective at what you’re doing, there comes a cutoff when I’m not satisfied anymore with what I’m able to put forth,” Martin told POPULAR SPEED.
“In other words, I’m not good enough for my own standards. Therefore, I don’t want to drive. I wouldn’t drive a racecar for anything; I wouldn’t drive a racecar for fun; I wouldn’t drive a racecar to take it out in practice. I didn’t drive racecars because I liked to go around in circles. I don’t like them because I liked to go fast – I like to go fast because that’s what it took to beat people. To me, when I look in the rearview mirror – and I’ve never been one to look back, ever – but when I look up in that mirror I can barely, vaguely see racecars. They are almost completely gone. Now what I see out my windshield is very exciting.”
In 2013, Martin knew that he had reached the end, he’d had enough. The limited schedule he was able to run in 2007 and 2008 with Dale Earnhardt Inc. was the best thing he had ever done and resulted in profound happiness, which made Martin extremely reluctant to sign with Rick Hendrick for a full season (2009).
But he did, with the promise he could then run 2010 with the schedule he wanted.
“Well, we won a race right away, and the only reason I even broke the promise to myself that I wouldn’t run the full schedule again was because I really wanted to win one more time,” Martin said. “So, we won right away, and it was so incredible and while we were all on the high we started signing contracts going further. The second year was OK and the third year that I did with Rick was way too much again.
“Then I had the opportunity to drive for Michael (Waltrip) and it was so much fun again. Working with Rodney Childers and working with Michael, and everybody, it was one of the most fun years I ever had in racing. Our commitment was a two-year commitment, so by the time we started the second year I knew that I was ready. I was ready.”
There have been offers, however. Martin was even presented with the chance to drive what he called a “really good car” in the XFINITY Series this year that would have given him a chance to win.
But as he continues to say, he doesn’t want to drive a racecar anymore.
“I don’t meet my standards,” he repeats. “That’s something in my past.”
Hailing from Batesville, Arkansas, Martin won 40 races at NASCAR’s premier level in addition to compiling 49 wins in XFINITY and seven in the Camping World Truck Series. Martin also has claim to five IROC championships.
He’s worked with car owners like Jack Roush and Rick Hendrick, both of whom were also selected to the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class. He’s been paired with crew chiefs from Harry Hyde and Larry McReynolds to Jimmy Fennig and Rodney Childers. And he’s competed against some of the best drivers in the sport.
Yes, Martin got everything out of being a racecar driver he could have ever imagined.
“One hundred times over. A little kid from a small town in Arkansas, he might have dreamed as such but if he was really realistic, he better not,” Martin said. “So, definitely. It was just an amazing ride and the opportunity to work, to meet, and compete with some of the greatest people in all of motorsports.
“It was a very rich time in my life, and I really feel like I’m fortunate.”
Forward, Not Back
Having put racing behind him, Martin never sat and reflected about where his place in the sport was. He’s far too busy for that now. During his career, Martin thought in retirement he’d want to do nothing more than sit on the couch. Instead, he discovered he doesn’t sit still well.
So his days, which are spent mostly back in Arkansas, are full from morning until night when he catches up with his wife, Arlene. But it did take some time to find a groove, especially with those weighing in on how he should do this or try that. Each time, Martin realized it wasn’t for him. He did find his passion, though, and it still involves mechanics.
“I have found that I like tinkering on things, working mechanically on my motorhome some; I enjoy getting the tools out,” he said. “I’ve sort of reconnected with the person that I was when I left Arkansas to chase my dream, which was a guy who had to fix stuff, had to figure out how to make something work that you had, rather than go get something else. Improvise and all those kind of things.
“I’m happy doing those kind of things, and I’ve done a lot of family stuff, and I enjoy that, too.”
Martin considers his glass filled all the way to the top. Garnering 57 percent of the votes from the Hall of Fame committee, he will now forever be remembered as one of the top drivers in NASCAR. Not bad for a guy who just wanted to be remembered.
So as he sits in the Winner’s Lounge at Charlotte Motor Speedway, being fed nicely and taking in how much his life has changed not only in just the past week, Mark Martin’s face can’t help but continue to light up.
“This is amazing to be in something with my heroes. I adore so many of the Hall of Fame members, not just the 2017 class, but some of my all-time racing heroes are in this Hall, and I can’t believe that I’m really included,” he said.
“When you asked the question, ‘did it meet up with what I thought it might be,’ it’s like, really? NASCAR Hall of Fame? Really? Racing’s really good to me.”
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