They say you can tell more about a man’s character in defeat than in victory.
I’m not sure that applies to Mark Martin.
Mark is so even-keeled that he’s dignified win or lose. Through good times and bad, amid highs and lows, his personal compass invariably remains stuck on “classy.”
This year, for the umpteenth frustrating time in his career, NASCAR’s oldest full-time racer didn’t win the championship. Unlike last season, he wasn’t even in contention.
Last year Martin finished second to teammate and eventual four-time champ Jimmie Johnson. This season he didn’t make the 12-man cut for the Chase.
But that disappointment never slowed Martin down. It didn’t keep him from racing his heart out week after week in NASCAR’s playoffs.
Lesser men might have folded their tent and furled their flag after last year’s disappointing defeat – Mark’s fifth runner-up of his championship-less career. Not Martin. He came back this season full of vim and vinegar. At 51 he continues to drive like a teen-ager late for a date on prom night.
And he’s not done yet.
After putting the wraps on another season Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway he returned home to Daytona Beach to start preparing for next year. Martin has one season remaining on his contact with powerful Hendrick Motorsports and he’s determined to make the most of it.
Anybody who thought he might step aside next year and vacate his ride for young Kasey Kahne was woefully mistaken. Evidently they don’t know Mark Martin. “Surrender” is not in his vocabulary.
Despite last year’s spirited charge there are some who believe Martin is over the hill. They don’t think he can cut the mustard against kids half his age. This season’s winless setback, they believe, means it’s time to quietly ride off into the sunset.
They’ve been thinking that for the last several years, and every time Martin has proved them wrong. Last year he finished runner-up to a driver who set a record for consecutive championships.
This year Martin finished 11th, the highest among non-Chasers. A lot of drivers behind him would love to swap places.
So what does the future hold for the driver who will be 52 when he rolls off at Daytona in February? Nobody knows. Nobody, that is, except possibly Mark Martin. And if he knows, he’s not saying.
All Martin will confirm is that he’s looking forward to next season. Might there be another one after that? And another …?
Who knows? Mark has proven that with a good car and a good team he can still compete. So why quit while he’s competitive and doing something he loves?
Some say that Martin is like an old fire horse that can’t keep from answering the bell. When it rings, his ears perk up and he’s off and running. Put him out to pasture? No way. When ready to go he’ll let us know. Until then don’t count him out. Methinks Mark Martin has a lot of racing left in him.
Larry Woody is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist. Woody began working at the Nashville Tennessean in the 1960s and took over the auto racing beat full time in the early 1970s. Larry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org