The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Sports Columns

November 19, 2013

Ken de la Bastide: End of a NASCAR era

Almost quietly over the weekend as the Sprint Cup season came to an end, three veteran drivers probably saw their storied careers come to a close.

Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte may never strap themselves into the driver’s seat and don their safety helmets again.

Martin will probably always be remembered as the best Sprint Cup driver never to win a championship with NASCAR.

But that fact should not detract from his Hall of Fame credentials. The Arkansas native win four titles with the American Speed Association national tour, five IROC titles, finished five times as the runner-up in the championship battle and recorded 40 victories.

Until Kyle Busch shattered his mark, Martin was the career wins leader in the Nationwide Series.

During his years in competition, Martin earned the respect of his fellow competitors and thousands of fans.

I have had the opportunity to meet Martin several times over the years, but the one that stands out took place at the Heartland Park road course in Kansas in the late 1990s.

Martin was attending the drivers’ meeting before an ASA race, and fans gathered around to catch a glimpse of their favorite drivers and to hope for an autograph.

Following the meeting, Martin sat and signed autographs for any fan who waited to get his signature.

Back in those days, I was an ASA official and asked Martin how long he wanted to sign autographs. His reply was simple, direct and showed his admiration for the fans. He would wait and sign an autograph for every fan who wanted one.

Martin will now serve as a mentor to Danica Patrick for the Stewart-Haas team. Patrick should pay close attention to the words of wisdom from the veteran driver.

Burton finished third in the points chase in 2000 and has recorded 21 wins over the years. He is now heavily involved with his son’s racing career.

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