Clay Campbell is celebrating 25 years as the Martinsville Speedway President, but Clay has been a part of the track's history for much longer than that, and has seen a little bit of everything at the historic half mile.
The late H. Clay Earles built the Martinsville Speedway out of a cornfield in 1947. The first race was run on dirt there in September of that year. But Earles eventually paved the track and the first race on pavement took place in 1955.
Five years later, his grandson, Clay Campbell was born. He started working at the track as a young boy, picking up trash, and mowing the grass among other things.
“I remember when I was about 10 years old and we were building the grandstands down in turns one and two,” Campbell said. “The small concrete grandstand, I helped him do the surveying on that. I would hold the stakes and stuff like that. We did a lot of stuff ourselves. Back in the day you didn’t contract out everything that you had done.”
Mr. Earles enjoyed a lively flock of geese that used to reside near a pond that was outside of turn four. He treated them well, just as he did the race fan, constantly working to improve amenities at the track, from restrooms and concessions, to grandstand seating and suites.
“Clay was here when it started,” said Richard Petty, 15-time Martinsville winner. “He built the track to begin with and he and Mr. France got together and decided to run races up here. And the deal was with Clay. He was forward thinking. He had somebody here all the time to improve the racetrack, putting up azalea bushes and just making the place look good. Every race we came to back there was something a little bit better and a little bit nicer.”
“Certainly a track like Martinsville,” said Darrell Waltrip, 11-time Martinsville winner, “it transcends time. It’s kept pace. I always just think about Clay Earles and back in my time when there were the ducks and the pond across the street and azaleas around the racetrack and the time of year it was. It was always one of my favorite races.”
Campbell has followed in his grandfather's footsteps and even though International Speedway corporation took over the track in 2004, the venue has thrived under his leadership. And as he celebrates a silver anniversary, he wouldn't change much of anything that has happened along the way.
“I was fortunate to get to work with family for so many years,” Campbell said. “My grandfather, my mother, my aunt, my sister. It was a family-run business for so many years and how many people can say they get to work with their family everyday and get along? We got along fine. I’ve seen so much and been pretty blessed.”