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Fairground Racers: Part 1

 Together again: ex-Fairgrounds racers cross paths in chase for racing's brass ring at Daytona
Springfield (Mo.) Leader & Press, January 12, 1983 1E

"Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace and Dean Roper have gone separate ways since the early days of their stock car racing careers at the Fairgrounds Speedway. But all three may get back together on the banks of the 2 ½ mile Daytona International Speedway at the Feb. 20 Daytona 500.

"Martin, a former Fairgrounds champion who drove the NASCAR Grand National circuit last season, has landed a ride with the powerful Jim Stacy team. Wallace, an ex-Fairgrounds champ who has achieved success with the U.S. Auto Club and short track circuits has landed a unique sponsorship with Ramada Inn and Easter Seals which has gained him national attention. And Roper, a longtime Fairgrounds favorite, will buckle into the Mueller Brothers Racing car which has given him back to back titles with USAC.

Mark Martin
"The question put to both Martin and Stacy was 'Why Mark Martin?' 'I didn't bother to ask,' said Martin, a native of Batesville, Ark. 'I just made the deal. I don't mean that smart, but I have no kind of answer for it because I was so wrapped up in making the deal. I never asked that question, even to myself.'

"'Mark Martin,' says Stacy, 'has a burning desire to race and he has the will to do the things you have to do to be a good race driver.' That was enough to convince Stacy, the coal magnate from Lexington, Ky. to hire Martin as his only driver for the 30 race NASCAR Winston Cup season. 'Everybody knows the things Mark has done in ASA (American Speed Association),' said Stacy, who will put Martin in a Buick Regal at Daytona. 'He won the championship three times. Then, he came to NASCAR two years ago and ran five races. He didn't have the best equipment and he sat on the pole two times in five tries. He ran up front and led a lot of the races. Nobody in a long time who's come off the street was able to accomplish that.'

"But last year, when Martin made a season long stab at the Rookie of the Year award, he fell upon hard times at mid-season and finished second to Geoff Bodine. 'it was obvious that he didn't have the financial backing and the good equipment to run with the leaders up front,' said Stacy. 'But he sure had the talent to do it."' Martin said he talked with Stacy once since the 1982 season ended, but he didn't think anything would come of it. He made plans to drive the No. 17 car owned by Roger Hamby. Then came the phone call from Stacy.

'"I was real surprised. I didn't think it was going to happen,' said Martin. 'But all of a sudden, it came together.' Martin says he feels no added pressure, despite his presence with a front running team. 'In fact, it probably takes a little pressure off,' he said. 'I know the car is going to go fast. I've always driven as hard as I can go. I've been racing too long and won too many races to doubt my ability. I've been racing my little tail off for so long, but it's definitely worthwhile. I'm thrilled I got a break this early in my career.'

"Nothing comes easy, Martin says, no what game the athlete plays. 'Especially when the rewards are great,' he said. 'This is something that's so hard to conquer that very few people can come in and break you onto the scene. The rewards are tremendous. If you win the Winston Cup title, that is it in my eyes. It's what I want.'

'Stacy says that's also what he wants. 'Mark is a good looking young fellow so we're going to see if we can't put that championship buckle on him,' said Stacy. 'There are a lot of young kids out there who, with the proper equipment, crew and financial backing, can do a good job. We picked out who we thought was the best of the lot, and that was Mark Martin.'

Rusty Wallace
"Wallace, a St. Louisan who'll try to qualify for his second consecutive Daytona 500, has put together a sponsorship package with Ramada Inn in conjunction with the Easter Seal Society.

"'This is going to be a pledge car,' he said. 'People will pledge money on the car toward how many miles the car runs in the race. The minimum pledge is $5. A person can pledge $5 or 5 cents a mile. If the thing gets to $100,000, then I'll get a certain percent. My deal with Ramada is that I'll get x amount of dollars up to one point. All of the posters have gone out and we had a big press conference the other day in Atlanta.'

"Wallace will get national television exposure Saturday when Atlanta's WTBS carriers a story about the operation on its weekly 'Motorweek Illustrated' program. The show, seen in Springfield on cable channel 11, will start at 4:30 p.m. Wallace admits the sponsorship idea seemed far fetched at first. It was the brainchild of Chris Hebeler, vice president of Ramada Inn who became acquainted with Wallace at American Speed Association races

"Wallace will drive a 1981 Buick Regal owned by St. Louis' John Childs. It's the same car from last year, but it has been updated. 'We're going to Daytona with everything we've got,' Wallace said. 'We're going to unload everything we know on the 500. After that, we'll hunt to see if we can find something. If we can't, we'll go back to short track racing.'

"Wallace says the benefits of the Daytona gamble outweigh the pitfalls. 'I stand to really gain from the race from a sponsor's point of view,' he said. 'We've got $100,000 worth of equipment going to Daytona. If we spent all this money just to go down there and have fun, it would be ignorant. The reason we're going down anyway is that it's the 500. It's televised live. It's the Super Bowl of stock racing. We're going to go down there and try to prove something.'

Dean Roper
"Roper, a Fair Grove native whose recent success has come on USAC'S (United States Auto Club) one mile ovals, has never raced at Daytona. He plans to race---the Mueller Brothers team actually will bring a Pontiac LeMans and a Pontiac Grand Prix---at a comfortable pace and not take risks by trying to run with the top teams.

"'I told Bobby Allison I was going down, and he told me a few changes we needed to make in the car that would have me in good shape to qualify,' Roper said. 'It shouldn't be that difficult to qualify.' But if he misses making the 500, Roper said he won't be discouraged. 'I won't be heart-broken if we don't make the show. I have no aspirations to run NASCAR full-time,' he said. 'But we're going to give it our best shot.'

"Roper also will run in ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) sanctioned races. Because he's defending USAC champion, he'll receive $1,000 appearance money from ARCA, he said. 'If we qualify and make the show (for the 500), then we should be able to make back our expenses,' Roper said."

 


 

Check back February 24, 2013, to read the rest of the article and don't forget to watch Mark Martin that same day, who is again racing in the Daytona 500.

The Springfield-Greene County Library District has biographies of Martin and Wallace, Mark Martin: Driven to Race by Bob Zeller and Rusty Wallace: The Decision To Win by Bob Zeller

To see footage of Wallace's crash, click here. To see Martin's crash, click here

 


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