Story on Mark Martin’s First Pole in 1981

No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota driver Mark Martin won his 52nd NASCAR Sprint Cup pole at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday afternoon. One of the many people to congratulate Martin during the weekend was eight-time champion crew chief Dale Inman.

Inman, the most recent addition to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and the future hall of famer Martin both laughed recalling a similar moment 31 years ago after Martin won his first pole.

The then 22-year-old Martin, driving his own Pontiac, stunned the NASCAR world at Nashville Speedway by out-qualifying the likes of Darrell Waltrip, Richard Petty and Bobby Allison in just his third Cup race. As the 30-car field finished practice preparing to run the 420-lap race in the July heat on the .596-mile track, Inman approached the youngster who was sitting in his race car.

“He comes up to me, leans into the car, and says ‘you got a hole in that floorboard?’ ” Martin recalled. “ I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he was talking about so I asked why. Then he said, ‘cause you gonna melt and run out of it.’ ”

“He looked at me and I don’t think he knew whether to laugh or be mad,” recalled Inman more than three decades later.

Martin said, “It was an old guy throwing cold water on a young hot shot.”

The race started and young hot shot led the first 38 laps before coming on the radio to say, “I think I have four flat tires.” By lap 100 he was down a lap.

“I have a picture of the first pit stop and you can see my face was cherry red,” Martin said. “Turns out Mr. Inman was spot on.”

Martin finished 11th in the race earning another pole at Richmond six races later and embarking on a career that includes 40 victories and pole awards over a 31-year span.

Inman, maybe the sport’s best practical joker, never misses an opportunity to remind Martin about that meeting whenever he wins a pole.

“We have laughed about it ever since because he was right,” Martin said. “I had never experienced anything like that.”