Sunday, April 19, 2009

The old man of NASCAR wins

Mark Martin has spent decades being a class act. When he retired a couple of years of ago, Martin was lauded as the best driver never to win a Cup Championship. When Martin decided to end his retirement and part time racing schedule and return full time to NASCAR at age 50, some shook their heads.

However, those heads are not shaking now. Many thought the big story out of the Rick Hendrick racing team would be the return to dominance of Jeff Gordan in his #24 car or the rise to championship level driving of the sport's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., in Hendrick's #88. But, it is the old man in the #5 car that is this year's big story.

Mark Martin won at Phoenix Saturday night, becoming only the fourth driver in the history of NASCAR to win a race over age 50. Martin is the third oldest race car driver to ever win a NASCAR cup event. It has been 16 years since a driver as old as Martin won a race.

In victory lane, Martin was the class act that he always has been. He thanked Hendrick for the chance to race, his wife for letting him come out of retirement and so many others. Younger and more popular stars in NASCAR, such as Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson came to Victory Lane to congratulate Martin. Even Martin's old race car owner came up to congratulate him.

With declining attendance at races, NASCAR could not have had a better night. Mark Martin, the old man of the circuit, who is widely respected for being a class act, pulled one out. To signify the difference in his approach to a victory, he declined to do the burnouts done by the younger drivers to celebrate victory and instead honored the late Alan Kulwiki with a "Polish victory lap." The late Kulwiki's first race win was at Phoenix and that is where he started his "Polish victory lap" tradition.

Younger NASCAR fans were probably scratching their heads trying to figure out why Martin was taking a lap backwards around the speedway. Older fans got the gesture to one of Martin's late friends.

While VUI realizes it is not political, it is good to see that a good guy, even an old good guy, can still win and then celebrate that win with class and dignity. Congratulations Mark Martin. VUI hopes to see you in Victory Lane again.

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