When Mark Martin climbed out of Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet at the end of 400 miles at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November of 2013, that appeared to be the last race for the legendary driver. Martin finished 19th that day in a substitute role for the injured Stewart, and he appeared to be satisfied that all was said and done.
Since then, Martin has been doing a lot of charity work with his wife, Arlene. He was also inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January of this year. But he hasn't strapped in behind the wheel. That’s something that is going to change in July when Martin gets back behind the wheel of a race car in the IWK 250 at Riverside International Speedway in Nova Scotia, Canada.
“As recently as January I said I had no interest in driving a race car and I probably wouldn’t be,” Martin told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I didn’t until this opportunity came up. The reason I was convinced to do it is because of the surrounding factors, not just because I really want to go around in circles. That being said, I am really exciting about going out and competing. The idea of winning a race is pretty darn exciting even though it isn’t something that has crossed my mind in the last three years, so that’s pretty exciting too.”
The “surrounding factors” that Martin mentioned is the charity work that can be done while in Nova Scotia for the race. Martin and his wife will be visiting with patients and their families at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia while he is up there for the July 15 race.
The hospital visit is what’s driving Martin to compete in this race. The 58-year-old Batesville, Arkansas native had a 31-year NASCAR career full of racing with charity work on the side when it was possible. Since stepping out of the car in 2013, Martin has had three years to give back as much as possible.
“For me, that’s where my heart is at is giving back. I have time to do more of that now and we’re doing a lot of that. For 40 years I had my laser beams on the target. It’s really great now to be able to do things that help other people and to give back to people that are less fortunate. It’s just really exciting.”
The charity aspect of the trip is how Martin got his wife to sign off on him running another race. Martin joked that Arlene was “pretty tired” of his racing by the time the final race at Homestead came along. However, Martin said convincing Arlene to let him run this race was actually easier than it was for Martin to convince himself that he wanted to do it.
“That’s a great question and I’m glad you asked that,” Martin said with a laugh when asked how he got Arlene to agree to this race. “She was actually pretty enthusiastic about making the trip to Nova Scotia and the area and going to see the area itself. She, along with myself, we’re both sort of immersed right now in doing good charity work and giving back. So she’s excited to go and see that part of the country and she actually signed off on it before I was even sure. She was good to go. And that’s really what pushed me into making the decision.”
Don’t be fooled, though. Martin is very much excited by the idea of racing and competing again. Even though it wasn’t something he had planned of doing again, now that it’s actually happening again, Martin said the thought of winning a race again definitely brings a smile to his face.
“The idea of winning a race is pretty darn exciting even though it isn’t something that has crossed my mind in the last three years, so that’s pretty exciting too,” Martin said. “I know there’s a lot of competition and I know it’s not easy because my fellow NASCAR buddies haven’t really gone up there and won other than Regan (Smith).”
The IWK 250 at Riverside International Speedway will take place on Saturday, July 15. For more information, visit www.riversidespeedway.ca.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Gerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR