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Mark Martin is the only driver from Arkansas competing in the top circuit of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). He ranks tenth on the all-time win list and sixth on the all-time pole position list. In 2016, he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Martin was born on January 9, 1959, in Batesville (Independence County) to Julian Martin and Jackie Estes Martin. Martin’s father was a truck driver who started a successful Batesville-based trucking company, Julian Martin, Inc., in 1960. As a hobby, Julian also sponsored a race team that competed on the numerous small local race tracks. Martin’s father instilled a passion for driving in him when he was very young. Before Martin was big enough to reach the brake and accelerator, his father would put him on his lap and let him steer the car on the crooked roads of north Arkansas.
Martin persuaded his father to build him a race car in the fall of 1973. On April 12, 1974, at the age of only fifteen, Martin drove it in his first stock car race at a small dirt track in Locust Grove (Independence County). He won on his third start and completed the season by winning the most significant race in his division in 1974, the Arkansas State Championship held at the Benton Speedbowl in Benton (Saline County).
In 1977, Martin received his diploma from Batesville High School, but while his classmates were participating in graduation ceremonies, he was busy setting a new track record at a race in Springfield, Missouri. With high school behind him, Martin moved to Springfield and began competing in races throughout the Midwest in the more organized American Speed Association (ASA). He was named the 1977 ASA Rookie of the Year before winning the series championship in three consecutive years from 1978 through 1980.
Martin made his first attempt at the elite NASCAR Winston Cup series in 1981, with moderate success. Martin would run a full season in 1982 and attempt to win the Winston Cup Rookie of the Year. He finished fourteenth in the final point standings but finished second for Rookie of the Year. In 1983, his racing career then went sour. Having exhausted most of his personal resources the previous year, and suffering through a failed sponsorship, Martin was forced to sell his race team. He would spend most of the season bouncing around between several teams.
Martin swallowed his pride and took a step back from NASCAR racing, returning to the ASA. He won another ASA series championship in 1986. In 1988, Martin helped develop a stock car racing program for Jack Roush, a sports car team owner. Martin earned his first Winston Cup victory on October 22, 1989, at North Carolina Motor Speedway. Since joining with Roush, Martin has won thirty-five victories in the NASCAR Nextel Cup (formerly Winston Cup) division and finished second in the point standings four times (1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002). As of 2008, he has managed 395 top-ten finishes in over 700 career starts in NASCAR’s top division and holds the record for most wins, with forty-seven in NASCAR’s secondary Busch series. Martin has captured five championships (1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 2005) in the International Race of Champions series and is the series all-time winner with thirteen victories.
In 2004, Martin announced that the 2005 season would be his last in the Nextel Cup Series, but he later agreed to postpone his departure when his long-time friend and car owner, Jack Roush, asked him to stay for an additional year while the team found a suitable replacement.
However, he kept racing, tying a record with his fifth second-place finish in 2009. (He shares this record with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.) Martin is signed with Hendrick Motorsports through the end of the 2011 season. Despite having spent most of his adult life living in North Carolina and Florida, he has built a home in Batesville, where he owns an auto dealership, Mark Martin Ford, opened a museum to house his racing memorabilia. Martin and his wife, Arlene, have five children: Amy, Rachel, Heather, Stacy, and Matt, who is following his father into auto racing.
For additional information:
Persinger, Kathy. Mark Martin: Small Town Hero, Big League Racer. Champaign, IL: Sports Publishing LLC, 2004.
Woody, Larry. Mark Martin: Mark of Excellence. Champaign, IL: Sports Publishing LLC, 2004.
Zeller, Bob. Mark Martin: Driven to Race. Phoenix, AZ: David Bell Publishing, 1997.
Zac CothrenArkansas Historic Preservation Program
Last Updated 5/26/2016
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