Baker declared winner at Martinsville

Sunday, May 19, 1957 – Defending NASCAR premier series champion Buck Baker was declared the winner of the Virginia 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway after officials halted the event to attend to injured spectators. Contact between race leader Billy Myers and the lapped entry of Tom Pistone sent Myers’ car into the concrete barrier and over the wall on lap 441 of the 500-lap event.

Nine-year-old Alvin Helsaveck suffered a head injury when he was struck by debris from the crash. According to reports, four other spectators suffered non-life threatening injuries.

Neither Myers nor Pistone was hurt in the crash.

The victory was career win No. 29 for Baker.

Officials were preparing to resume the race, which had been slowed earlier for 45 minutes due to rain, when rain returned and the race was declared official.

A Pearson victory and a controversy

Sunday, April 29, 1973 – The Virginia 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway was your typical exciting short-track race, ending with David Pearson in victory lane following a lengthy late-race duel with Cale Yarborough. The pair battled for the top spot for more than 50 laps before Yarborough spun his No. 11 Chevrolet, leaving Pearson to sail away in his No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. But it was a caution on lap 374 of the 500-lap race that left Yarborough and team manager Junior Johnson feeling robbed.

NASCAR officials threw the caution flag to allow an ambulance to exit the track and transport a heart attack victim to a local hospital. Pearson, two laps down earlier in the race, got back on the lead lap when the yellow appeared and after Yarborough had pitted under green moments earlier. Johnson said teams weren’t told the yellow was going to come out and the move “cost us that race.”

The victory was Pearson’s first at Martinsville, one of 11 victories in only 16 starts that season for the Spartanburg, S.C. native.

Yarborough, who led 314 laps, managed to finish second in spite of his late-race spin. Bobby Isaac, Buddy Baker and Cecil Gordon completed the top five.

Waltrip overcomes blunder, lost laps for win

Sunday, April 27, 1980 – Darrell Waltrip made a blunder on pit road but recovered to make up four laps, chase down Benny Parsons and win the rain-hampered Virginia 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

• The race was one of the first to utilize NASCAR’s new short-track tire rule which penalized teams two laps for changing tires under the yellow flag. Waltrip had followed the pace car onto pit road after the fourth caution of the race on lap 182 before realizing he could not take on tire without penalty. “It was just driver error,” Waltrip said afterward. “I guess we sort of panicked and … changed all four tires.”

• The race was delayed twice by rain but completed in its entirety. Officials were hopeful of reaching the halfway point, thus making it official, when rain returned a second time at lap 230.

• Parsons, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Joe Millikan rounded out the top five. L.G. DeWitt, owner of Millikan’s team and a championship winner with Parsons in 1973, announced two days after the race that the No. 72 team was shutting down.

Rookie Shepherd dusts field for win No. 1

Sunday, April 26, 1981 – Thirty-nine-year old Morgan Shepherd led 203 of 500 laps in the Virginia 500 to earn his first NASCAR premier series victory, beating Neil Bonnett by a full 15 seconds at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Shepherd, competing for rookie of the year honors, took the lead for the final time with 89 laps remaining in his No. 5 Cliff Stewart-owned Pontiac.

Martinsville was the site of several memorable events in Shepherd’s career. In addition to his first premier series win, in 1977 he won a Late Model Sportsman race that provided enough funding to allow him to continue his racing career; and in 1980 he was married on the start/finish line at the .526-mile facility.

Shepherd became just the third driver to win during his rookie season, joining Dale Earnhardt (1979) and Earl Ross (1974).

The victory came in Shepherd’s 15th start in the series, his first as a full-time competitor.

NASCAR rules no gas cap, no problem

Sunday, April 25, 1971 – Richard Petty was flagged the winner, David Pearson filed the protest and career win No. 10 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for Petty was put into question when he completed the final 18 laps of the 500-lap race with the gas cap on his ’71 Plymouth not secured.

Petty held a half-lap lead when he pitted for a splash of gas and returned to the track side-by-side with Pearson. He eventually pulled away and won the Virginia 500 by more than 1.5 seconds.

Ralph Moody, Pearson’s team owner, met with NASCAR officials as soon as the race ended to lodge a complaint. Len Kuchler, NASCAR competition director, said because Petty took only a small amount of fuel, none was spilling onto the track and the unsecured cap did not create a safety hazard.

Pearson filed an official protest and when it was disallowed by Kuchler, appealed to the NASCAR Racing Commission.

One week later, the Commission disallowed Pearson’s protest, declaring Petty the official race winner. Pearson’s $100 protest fee was returned.

Unofficially, the race was the last of three at the tiny half-mile oval to see only one caution flag wave during the course of an event. As of 2019, there has never been a caution-free premier series race on the .526-mile track.

Going out on top with the Monte Carlo

Sunday, April 23, 1989 – Darrell Waltrip captured the Pannill Sweatshirts 500 NASCAR premier series Cup race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, giving automaker Chevrolet one final win for its Monte Carlo model before teams began making the switch to the new Lumina. Waltrip beat fellow Chevrolet driver Dale Earnhardt for his 76th career victory.

It was the 95th win for the Monte Carlo model in 183 races entered beginning in 1983.

At the time, Earnhardt had the most wins in the model with 26. Waltrip had 25 wins with the piece.

Most Chevrolet teams debuted the Lumina the following week when the series moved to Talladega Superspeedway although the Monte Carlo was still approved for competition by NASCAR.

Chevrolet teams competed with the Lumina through the 1994 season before the automaker brought back the Monte Carlo as its on-track entry in ’95.

Return of a champion

Sunday, April 22, 1962 – Lee Petty returns to NASCAR competition more than a year after he was seriously injured in a crash at Daytona International Speedway. Petty, founder of the legendary Petty Enterprises racing operation, resumed his racing career with a fifth-place finish in the Virginia 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

Petty suffered injuries to his right leg, a punctured lung and broken ribs in an accident during his qualifying race at DIS the previous year. He was hospitalized for four months.

The three-time series champion made roughly a half-dozen starts after his crash but by ’64 his was through as a driver. After the Martinsville start, his only race in 1962, Petty made three starts in ’63 and two in ’64.

Richard Petty said talk of his father’s retirement “never came up,” when the two were competing. “I don’t think it came up in his mind because he was still winning races and winning championships (at that time. I don’t think he ever thought about not driving,”

The Daytona accident changed all that. “One of the last races he ran, I think it was Martinsville, he got out of the car and he said, “I’m through,” Richard Petty said. “I said ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I don’t enjoy it anymore; it’s not fun.’ He had lost his enthusiasm. If he hadn’t gotten hurt, he wouldn’t have lost it. Who knows how much longer he might have raced?”

Dominant Hamilton captures Martinsville

Monday, April 20, 1998 – A dominant performance by Bobby Hamilton in the Goody’s Headache Powder 500 resulted in the fourth career victory for the Nashville, Tenn., native and the 14th NASCAR premier series win for Morgan-McClure Motorsports. Hamilton led 378 of the 500 laps in a race that had been run a day later than originally scheduled due to rain. Ted Musgrave, Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt and Randy LaJoie completed the top five.

Hamilton would go on to score one more Cup victory, at Talladega Superspeedway in 2001 while driving for team owner Andy Petree. By 2003 he had shifted his focus to the Craftsman Truck Series where he won 10 races and the 2004 series championship. He died Jan. 7, 2007, less than a year after announcing he had been diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

The Martinsville victory was the final premier series win for the Abingdon, Va.-based Morgan-McClure Motorsports team. Hamilton became the third driver to win for the organization, joining Ernie Irvan (seven wins) and Sterling Marlin (6).

Clock strikes midnight for Wallace

Sunday, April 18, 2004 – Former series champion Rusty Wallace snapped a 105-race winless streak with a victory in the Advance Auto Parts 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Wallace, driving for team owner Roger Penske, led the final 45 laps. It was career win No. 55 for the St. Louis native.

The win was the final victory in NASCAR’s premier series for Wallace. He posted eight top-five finishes the following year, including a runner-up at Pocono, before retiring at the end of the ’05 season.

The victory was the only win for Wallace in a Dodge. Previous wins had come in Pontiac and Ford entries.

The race took nearly 5 hours to complete due to a piece of concrete coming up from the track in Turn 3. The piece struck the No. 24 of Jeff Gordon while the field was under caution and resulted in a delay of more than one hour while repairs to the racing surface were completed.

A front-row first for Riggs

Friday, April 8, 2005 – Scott Riggs captures the first pole of his career in NASCAR’s premier series, earning the No. 1 spot at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.  His lap speed of 96.671 mph in the No. 10 Chevrolet fielded by MB2 Motorsports was good enough to push Ryan Newman, previously fastest, into the No. 2 slot for the Advance Auto Parts 500.

Riggs’ pole came in his 41st start in the series. He had already won poles in the Busch and Truck Series before his Martinsville Cup effort.

 Although he started on the pole, Riggs failed to lead a lap in that weekend’s race, eventually finishing 21st. He won two more poles the following year and ended his Cup career with a total of three.