Technically, Martinsville Speedway isn’t considered one of NASCAR’s “Home Tracks.” That title is reserved for the weekly race tracks throughout the country that locals flock to to see their neighbors, friends and family members beat and bang on summer nights.
However, when the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 rolls around on October 16, the track transforms into the biggest “Home Track” of them all and for the 2016 Whelen All-American Series National Champion the term couldn’t be more appropriate.
Matt Bowling grew up in Ridgeway, just minutes from the famous half-mile speedway. After a year in which he won 14 races, his third track championship at South Boston Speedway, the Division I Virginia State Championship and theDivision I National Championship, the 22-year-old only has one thing left to do; win a grandfather clock trophy.
“The last thing left on my checklist is to win Martinsville,” Bowling said. “For me personally, I grew up watching races there. It’s in my hometown. I’d really love to get that one.”
The driver of the No. 83 had a season most drivers dream of. He started well, kept the momentum going and finished strong.
“You never really start off the year thinking you are going for it,” Bowling said. “It just kind of works out.”
But after four wins at South Boston in the first two months of the season, the wheels started turning.
“Definitely, I’d say in May it was on our mind, and in July is when we really started chasing it pretty hard and really had a shot at it,” he said. “I was fortunate to start the year off good at South Boston and that really helped us to get things going.”
While Bowling led the standings the entire season, it was far from easy. As the season started to draw to a close, his lead shrank each week. At one point, only three points separated Bowling from New Englander Keith Rocco and Midwesterner Ty Majeski.
That’s when Bowling hit the road, crisscrossing Virginia, the Carolinas and Tennessee heading to any track he could find.
Bowling may be considered the home team at Martinsville, but the races at unfamiliar tracks were certainly away games.
“It’s tough anywhere you go,” he said. “It’s hard to beat people that have more experience at those places than we have. It feels pretty good; we always seemed to get a win when we needed it and it definitely paid off for us.”
Heading into the last week of the season, Bowling held a thirteen point lead over Rocco and Majeski was still very much in the running as well.
“I was pretty nervous,” Bowling said. “We’d been leading this thing from the start and it would really be something to lose it in the last week. We knew that we just had to keep doing what we’d been doing all year and we’d be fine.”
Fortunately, Bowling could turn to someone who has been down the same road, his car builder, teammate and 2005 National Champion Peyton Sellers.
“He was very optimistic about it for us,” Bowling said of Sellers. “We were all nervous about it last week and he was just telling us it’s all going to be fine.
“He definitely helped out a lot and he was right. He’s been there and was able to keep us upbeat about everything all year.”
While Matt was the one holding the wheel and Sellers provided the encouragement, it was his father Tim steering the ship.
“I couldn’t do it without him,” he said. “He pushes us pretty hard, but he’s my biggest backer and he just wants to see us run well and do well. He’s definitely hard on us sometimes, but he wants to see us do the best we can and he knows we can do it.
“I’m just glad I could bring it home for him.”
Bowling will be the sixth straight Whelen All-American Series National Champion to start the ValleyStar Credit Union 300. He will be joined in the race by past champions Sellers, Lee Pulliam and Philip Morris, along with past and current state and track champions from throughout the Southeast.
The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 pays $25,000 to win and regularly sees more than 75 teams show up to make the 40 car field.
The day starts with three 25 lap heat races and a 25 lap “last chance race” to set the field, followed by the 200 lap feature.
Last year Tommy Lemons Jr. held off a furious charge from Timothy Peters on the final lap to win his second grandfather clock trophy.
General Admission grandstand seating is $30 for adults and $5 for youth 12-and-under.
Tickets can be purchased by calling 877.RACE.TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.