Saturday 18th April 2009
Mark Martin won the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at the Phoenix International Speedway in Avondale, Arizona, and became the first 50-year-old to claim victory at a National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing Sprint Cup race since Morgan Shepherd did so at a race in Atlanta in 1993, renewing hope for senior citizens everywhere. Besides Martin and Shepherd, only two other drivers age 50 or older have won NASCAR championship events.
Mark Martin was born on January 9, 1959, in Batesville, Arkansas, and starting racing cars as a teenager. After winning the American Speed Association (ASA) championship in 1978, 1979 and 1980, Martin began his NASCAR Winston Cup (later known as the Sprint Cup) career in 1981. He had several seasons of moderate success then returned to ASA racing, winning another championship in 1986. In 1989, at the North Carolina Motor Speedway, Martin collected his first Winston Cup victory. He would go on to win more than 35 Cup races in the decades ahead and come in second in the overall Sprint Cup Series point standings four times, in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002. Martin also collected five International Race of Champions (IROC) titles, in 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2005. (IROC, which went out of business in 2008, was meant to be a pure test of a driver’s ability, as competitors drove identical stock cars prepped by a single crew of mechanics.) Among Martin’s other accomplishments are the most victories (47) in NASCAR’s secondary Busch series.
Standing beside Martin in the 50-and-up winner’s circle is Bobby Allison, who in 1988 won his fourth Daytona 500 at the age of 50 (his son Davey finished the 200-lap, 500-mile race in second place). Bobby Allison, who was born on December 3, 1937, in Florida, drove in his first Daytona 500 in 1961 and went on to win the race in 1978 and 1982, in addition to his 1988 victory. (The youngest driver to claim victory at the Daytona 500 is Jeff Gordon, who did so in 1997 at the age of 25.) The oldest driver to win a Cup race is Harry Gant, who was born on January 10, 1940, and in 1992, at the age of 52, won the Champion Spark Plug 400 at the Michigan International Speedway.