A Look at H. Clay Earles, the Founder of Martinsville Speedway

Joseph SheltonContributor IIIApril 2, 2013

Earles built Martinsville Speedway on a $60,000 loan.
Earles built Martinsville Speedway on a $60,000 loan.

Never in his wildest dreams did Axton, Virginia's H. Clay Earles imagine his racetrack would be such a large part of NASCAR history.

Born in 1913, Earles founded Martinsville Speedway in 1947 after first noticing the crowds at local racing events. At the time, he had already had a stint as the owner of a pool hall that went bust as well as a drive-in owner and a couple of gas stations as well.

For the first race, Earles teamed with Bill France in promoting the event. Fans were told that the event was going to be dust-free because of the oil and other materials spread onto the track. Over 6,000 fans showed up dressed in their Sunday best, even though there were only 750 seats at the facility. As it turned out, the event was a dusty affair which was won by Red Byron.

Earles is credited as a pioneer of the sport, a man who was constantly reinventing and improving his facility. Earles believed in giving the customer his money's worth, as they were the greatest asset.

Martinsville has always been considered a unique racetrack, due to the design and the fact that it transcends the history of NASCAR (the only track on the current schedule that was a part of the inaugural NASCAR season). Therefore, Earles felt that it was only right to award the winners a unique trophy following a win, so in 1964 he began awarding a grandfather clock to the victor.

Richard Petty holds the most victories at Martinsville with 15, but only holds 12 grandfather clocks due to the fact that three of the wins predate the practice. 

Earles passed away in 1999 at the age of 86. Aside from his contributions to the sport, he also gave back by establishing an Automotive Technology scholarship at Patrick Henry Community College. He also received several awards for his efforts, including the Myers Brothers Memorial Award, the American Spirit award which was first received by Bob Hope, and the GM Goodwrench/L.G. Dewitt Lifetime Award in 1994 for his contributions to NASCAR. 

A nominee for the 2012 and 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame classes, look for Earles to be inducted soon.