NASCAR Legend Mark Martin is embracing Dirt Late Model racing in retirement
Mark Martin is happy. He’s spending time with his wife, Arlene. He’s keeping an eye on his automotive and powersports dealerships, traveling, and seeing the country from his motorhome, instead of a race car hauler or airplane.
He remains humble, still exuding the class and dignity that drew millions of fans to him during his illustrious career that included 40 NASCAR Cup wins and 49 victories in what is now the XFINITY Series.
But, he seems more content and relaxed than ever.
That’s not to say he doesn’t miss racing. After 40 years in the sport, Martin, 57, still needs his occasional fix. However, these days it comes as an interested observer rather than from behind the wheel.
And it happens at dirt tracks.
Martin is back in his native Batesville, Arkansas, a hilly town of 11,000 in the northern part of the state that serves as an unlikely hotbed of motorsports activity. There Martin and business partner Lance Landers have teamed up to support Landers’ sons, Jared and Gavin, in their budding Dirt Late Model careers.
“They’re really fun race cars, really have a sexy look to them,” Martin says of the vehicles. “They’ve got the best looking bodies of any stock car racing going right now.”
Jared is a mainstay on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, while the younger Gavin competes on the COMP Cams Super Dirt Series and other regional tours throughout the Mid-South.
Martin claims he isn’t heavily involved with Landers’ Double L Motorsports team, instead choosing to only occasionally poke his head into the first-class race shop behind the flagship Mark Martin Automotive dealership and museum in Batesville.
“I make a better fan and observer,” he says.
Thanks to an agreement with Dirt Late Model legend Scott Bloomquist, the Landers drivers are also associated with Bloomquist’s operation. The Landers’ Dirt Late Models utilize Bloomquist Race Cars’ chassis, while Mark Martin Automotive appears as a sponsor on the Landers brothers’ and Bloomquist’s cars.
“The biggest thing that I really like is how much respect he has for our sport,” Bloomquist says of Martin, adding that his unique perspective as both a driver and businessperson is a significant asset.
Martin says he tries to avoid being sucked into working in the shop for hours on end each day, having lived that life for four decades. Instead, he wants to stay out of the details of racing, preferring instead to offer advice where he can.
Jared Landers, for one, has found that advice and perspective invaluable, noting Martin has helped him approach driving differently. He now has a better understanding of how to preserve equipment and make his car better late in the race.
“Even though he doesn’t race these cars, he still knows racing,” Landers says. “It can blow you away, all the stuff that I didn’t think about until he came along … his stature helps with everything. I understand I can really listen to him. When he speaks, it’s meant.”
Martin began his legendary career on dirt in the mid-’70s, driving cars prepared by equally legendary builder Larry Shaw and Martin’s late father, Julian. A natural talent, Martin soon tackled asphalt and made his name on the ultra-competitive ASA circuit before becoming one of the most popular and successful NASCAR drivers in history.
He was recently chosen to be enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, while off the track, his passion for hip hop and fitness are well-documented.
Yet, Martin remains fascinated with the racing culture that exists within the world of dirt.
“I have a real appreciation for how difficult it is to race for a living, on dirt, Late Models especially,” he says. “Going to these big races and getting three laps of practice. You don’t get to test, you don’t get to try stuff, you get three laps. Then you’ve got to earn your spot in the feature through heat races and B-Mains. And the competition is really deep.”
He adds that he is impressed by the science of how drivers and crew look at the track surface and weather to make changes related to tires and setup, in what amounts to little more than an educated guess.
“I kind of like dirt track racing because it is not as spoiled by technology,” Martin says. “[In NASCAR] technology has taken over to the degree that it sort of has taken away from the grassroots origin of racing.”
While Martin lets the dirt teams set up their own cars, he also remains interested in the mechanical side of the sport.
“He has an interest in suspension and different combinations and setups that have been used in the asphalt industry,” Bloomquist says. “Some of that stuff has kind of bled over into the dirt market. There’s been a couple of times that he’s had some things he thought he might like to see what happened on the dirt car.”
Yet for all his enthusiasm for dirt racing, Martin remains adamant fans have seen the last of him behind the wheel, even in a Dirt Late Model, thanks to skills he admits have diminished.
“I’m done driving race cars, I’m a spectator now. I have no desire to get in a race car again whatsoever,” he says. “I leave it to the young guns. I love to watch them do their thing and I’m fascinated by it.”
Thanks to a life lived making circles — very successfully — Martin is not so much reflective about the past, but looking forward to a future undefined by qualifying schedules or personal appearances. He still gets out to the track from time to time, but racetracks no longer define this chapter of his life.
“I stay really busy, but mostly I’m just doing the stuff that I used to pay people to do,” Martin says, laughing. “Enjoying not having a job, I don’t have time for a job any more I stay so busy.”