Veteran driver makes final turn
The racing world has been saddened once again. This past Saturday Sam Ard, one of the greatest short track racers of all time, passed away.
Sam was injured in1984 at Rockingham a few races from the end of the season and never returned to the track as a driver.
His career started at Hemmingway Speedway in 1957 and he won his first of many feature events there as a rookie. He earned $25 in one-dollar bills and change for the victory.
He was one of the smoothest and cleanest racers I have ever seen. He obtained the most success behind the wheel of the white-with-red numerated 00 Thomas Bros Country Ham sponsored cars based out of Asheboro, North Carolina. When this team rolled through the gates you knew you had to beat them.
When NASCAR started the Busch series in 1982 Sam finished second in the point standings his rookie season. In 1983 and ’84 he won the Championship and Most Popular Driver. The ’84 championship was won even with the crash. He received a closed head injury which evolved into Parkinson’s disease and later he developed Alzheimer’s.
He was 78 years old when he passed and his situation brought to the forefront the need for a driver’s retirement and disability program. Sam was a common man from a humble background and had made a good living racing. However, when disaster struck Sam was not prepared for the costs. He wound up selling his two Championship rings and the multiple grandfather clocks that he had won at Martinsville Speedway to help.
The modern-day NASCAR drivers did step up and had several fundraisers for him, with Kyle Busch donating $100,000 along with many others. I cannot remember a single time anyone has ever said a cross word about Sam. This is saying a lot in the rough and tumble world of short track racing. Godspeed, Sam, and prayers to your family!
The weekend’s racing in NASCAR was at the half-mile paperclip-shaped Martinsville Speedway. The new stage racing format seemed to work well and I’m hearing positive feedback from fans.
On Saturday, the Camping World truck series took to the track for the first time since Daytona. The Alpha Energy Solutions 250 had Cup driver Chase Elliott in the field and he had captured the pole position in qualifying. He set sail and won the first stage. His teammate Johnny Sauter grabbed the second stage. These two trucks were the class of the field. Chase repassed Johnny late in the race and held on for the victory.
Sauter finished second. Christopher Bell finished third. Rookie of the year candidate Noah Gragson finished fourth over Ty Dillon. The race had plenty of bumping and banging short-track action.
On Sunday, the STP 500 rolled off under a beautiful sky. Rain on Friday washed out qualifying and most of the practice. The starting field was set by point standings, with Kyle Larson on the pole.
Martin Truex Jr. worked his way to the front and captured the first stage. Kyle Busch took the lead in the second stage and appeared to be headed to the win. Coming out of turn four leading to the stage flag, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bumped Kyle to stay on the lead lap and Chase Elliott pounced and stole the stage win.
The final stage saw Brad Keselowski take his Penske Racing Ford to victory lane. This was his first-ever Martinsville win and the first for Ford in many years at this historic short track.
Kyle Busch ran second but could not mount a challenge in the closing laps. Chase Elliott had a very strong run, finishing third. Joey Logano finished fourth. Austin Dillon was right with the leaders all day and brought Pop Pop’s RCR Chevrolet home fifth. He was very happy with his finish. It was his best run at this tricky short track.
Kyle Larson finished 17th in the final run down. This was not how he ran all day. He was in the top five when the car developed an engine issue which caused him to lose straightaway speed. He limped the car home and salvaged a decent point finish and retained the points lead.
This week it’s back to a mile and a half super speedway. The Texas Motor Speedway will host the Xfinty series teams on Saturday for the My Bariatric Solutions 300, then on Sunday the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series. The Camping World truck series have another break until May 12 at the Kansas Speedway.
Local racing is starting up also. The Legendary Hilltop Speedway in Marietta, Ohio, ran an event on Saturday evening. I was not able to obtain an official finishing order for Hilltop.
Tyler County has been plagued by rain so far. Elkins Raceway test and tune is only a few weeks away so I’ve got to get busy. Remember, at the end of the straightaway there’s always Another Left Turn