MARTINSVILLE, Va. – The year was 1981. Gas was $1.25 a gallon. MTV was created, and Mark Martin was 22 years old and making his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway.
Thirty years and 799 Cup starts later, quite a bit has changed in the world as Martin prepares to line up for his 800th event. In making his 800th start, Martin will rank first among active drivers and eighth all-time. During his career, the driver of the No. 5 Quaker State/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet has scored 40 wins, 264 top-five finishes and 429 top-10s. At Martinsville alone, Martin has earned two wins, 12 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s.
“We’ve had a lot of wins, a lot of success and a lot of fun,” Martin said. “I’ve made friends out there that will be friends forever, and I can’t imagine anything else I would have rather been doing that racing all of those days. Beyond the stat itself or the records or whatever, it’s the experiences of it all that are the most important to me.”
Three decades ago, Martin scored his first top-five finish at Martinsville on Sept. 27, 1981. Ronald Reagan was the president. “Bette Davis Eyes” was the No. 1 song on the radio, and “Dallas” was the top television program. Today, the landscape looks different. MP3 players provide tunes, rather than cassette tapes. Standard definition television has evolved into high definition, and reality programming recently has trumped scripted dramas.
And while Martin was building three decades worth of experience, five presidents took their turn leading the United States of America. Internationally, a royal family expanded. The year Martin’s career began was the same year that Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles of Wales to become Princess Diana. This year, just two weeks after Martin’s 800th start, their son William will wed Catherine Middleton.