Made In America Whelen 300 Could End Up With Southern Surprise In Victory Lane From Martinsville Speedway PR
Saturday Afternoon Racing Action at Martinsville Speedway
It has been a long, long, long time since a Southern driver won a NASCAR Modified event at Martinsville Speedway.
It’s been 23 years to be exact, since a Southern driver rolled one of the sleek, powerful Modifieds into Victory Lane at Martinsville.
The last Southern winner? Bassett’s Johnny Bryant, driving a baby-blue1984 Chevrolet Cavalier. He won the 200-lap Modified portion of the Winn-Dixie 500. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to Martinsville Speedway next Saturday with the running of the Made In America Whelen 300.
Bryant’s win was an upset of unprecedented proportions, maybe the biggest surprise victory in the 61-year history of Martinsville Speedway.
Bryant was driving for Riggs Racing, based just a few miles from Martinsville Speedway. It was an underfunded family operation short on dollars but long on love of the sport.
How underfunded was the team? They were probably the only team without two-way radios that day. They communicated with Bryant the old-fashioned way, with a chalk board held up on pit road. They had competed in only five or six races coming into the Winn-Dixie 500. Ironically they didn’t qualify for the spring Martinsville race that year, but were given a “promoter’s option” berth in the field by Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles.
But you couldn’t have convinced anyone on the team they were underdogs before the race started that fall afternoon.
“I actually thought we had a chance to win,” said Jeff Riggs, who was a 23-year-old tire-changer for the team in 1985. Today he is listed as the team’s owner, but still has to answer to his father, family patriarch and team founder David Riggs.
When we got up that Sunday morning I asked my wife where she was going to sit. She said on the back stretch. I asked her how she was going to get to victory lane. She laughed and said she’d be there. Well, we got there and she didn’t.”
Riggs Racing is still a fixture on the Mod Tour, now with driver Andy Seuss. (51 Sports Photo)
Much has happened to the NASCAR Modified Tour since 1985. It’s now the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, and actually there are two tours. The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour was added three years ago.
And it should come as no surprise that the Riggs Racing team has won two out of the three Southern Modified Tour championships to date. The Riggs team won those two championships with veteran Junior Miller, but this year have a Northerner, young Andy Seuss, behind the wheel.
While the changes have been great in Modified racing since 1985, one thing remains the same: winning at Martinsville Speedway is the holy grail of Modified racing. And according to one Southerner who has celebrated in victory lane at Martinsville Speedway, you don’t have to be from above the Mason-Dixie Line to win a Modified race on the tough half-mile.
“Absolutely, Southern teams have a chance in this race. I believe that more so now than ever,” said Riggs. “It’s a lot of good equipment down here now and there are plenty of good drivers.”
Before the Made In America Whelen 300 takes the green flag next Saturday, legendary driver Red Farmer will be honored as part of NASCAR’s celebration of 60 years of Modified Champions.
Farmer won the NASCAR Modified national title in 1956, but he hasn’t hit the rocking chair just yet. Amazingly, he’s still racing. After being honored in prerace Saturday, Farmer will hop a plane back to his home state of Alabama to run a dirt race that night.
Tickets for the Made In America Whelen 300 are $25. Children five to 12 years old are $5. Tickets may be purchased by calling 1.877.RACE.TIX or visiting www.martinsvillespeedway.com.
The race is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m.