Commonwealth Corner: Clay Campbell

A Special Place

By: Clay Campbell, President of Martinsville Speedway

It’s always a fond time of the year for me when I go to Richmond for a race. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s the spring race or the fall. Both in my book are equally as good.

You see, I’ve been going to Richmond since I was probably about ten years old. Yes, it was Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway back in those days, not Richmond International Raceway. Call it what you want, it was a great track then and it still is a great track today. Let me get back to what I was talking about now. When I was a kid, I used to come to Richmond with my grandfather, H. Clay Earles. As everyone knows, he founded the track here in Martinsville. Well, twice a year it would be me, him, our PR Director back then Dick Thompson, as well as his son Jeff (my age). Those two weekends a year were awesome! We had a ball!

You gotta understand, my grandfather was very much a routine kind of guy. So everything we did was pretty consistent with the previous trip and yes, very much like the next trip was going to be! So I knew what I could expect. Obviously for a kid, it pretty neat to be able to hang out at a track with the likes of Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Lennie Pond, as well as Richmond hometown favorite…Junie Donlavey.

Anyway, we’d spend Saturday afternoon at the track. Then it was off to check in at the Holiday Inn on West Broad Street. If it was early enough we could spend some time in the pool. I made sure it was always early enough! Now, I wasn’t much into fine dining back at that age but I’ve got to say, the restaurant across the street from the motel was REALLY good! Best lobster I ever had. True, at age ten, I hadn’t partaken of much lobster! Byram’s Restaurant, I remember it like it was yesterday.

The great thing about our PR Director was he liked going to movies. So we always hit up a good movie after dinner! There were several good theaters down on the other end of Broad. We saw a lot of movies back then! All G rated by the way. OK, maybe a PG here and there.

Well, the fun has to stop sometime and the work has to begin…..raceday. Back then all the tracks handed out brochures to the fans. No such thing as social media, no internet. It was done the old fashioned way. I don’t guess there were any child labor laws then either. My grandfather had us taking all those boxes of brochures to the main gate and passing them out until the last one was gone! When I say I’ve done just about everything in this business to get to where I am today, I’m not kidding! It was a long morning till we ran out of those fliers! All the fans were very nice to me though. How could they say no to a kid? Hmm, never thought of that. Maybe that’s why he had me doing it!

Finally, race time! We always stood outside of turn four between the two grandstands. In fact, that area is still there…the gap between the Sprint grandstand and the Colonial grandstand. What an exciting rush it was to see those cars come off turn four for the start! I think Richmond is where I really got turned on to loving racing.

Every time on the trip back to Martinsville I fondly thought about my weekend and how much fun I had. Really, I feel the same way now. RIR is a special place to me. Always will be.