H. Clay Earles

H. Clay Earles

(b. 8/11/13 – d. 11/16/99)
Hometown: Martinsville, Va.

One of the original pioneers of stock car auto racing, H. Clay Earles played an integral role in the early years of NASCAR’s development. Earles built and opened Martinsville Speedway in 1947, and the short track remains the only facility to host NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races every year since the series’ inception in 1949.

The speedway held its first race Sept. 7, 1947 – three months before the creation of NASCAR. That initial race drew more than 6,000 fans to the track, which had just 750 seats ready.

Built as a dirt track, the .526-mile asphalt speedway has grown from a dusty, primitive operation into a multi-million dollar facility covering over 340 acres. It’s been called “two drag strips with short turns” due to the 800-foot straights and tight turns banked at only 12 degrees.

Back in 1947, Earles originally had planned to put only $10,000 in the facility, but spent $60,000 before an engine was fired.

Martinsville also has been called ”the Augusta National of auto racing.” Earles had roses climbing the outhouses, azaleas in the turns and ducks roaming the grounds.

In 1964, Earles decided it was time for a “different” type of trophy for his race winners. He gave winners grandfather clocks instead of trophies, a tradition that continues today.

Earles passed away on November 16, 1999 as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the speedway.

Greg Engle