Then & Now by Thomas Martins

Homestead broke my heart.

It was our first DNQ of the season. Unfortunately, DNQs are a part of my NASCAR career. I’ve had several. When we went through our struggles in the Xfinity Series in 2014, it was commonplace. I’d dealt with the disappointment of it several times before. But, when we stood in the garage alongside the other two trucks that missed the race at Homestead, the #10 of Jennifer Jo Cobb & the #63 of Norm Benning, all I could think was, “my guys don’t deserve this.” 

I deserved it. I wrecked our Homestead truck at Texas a couple weeks prior. Then, I scraped the wall with it in practice during our mock run. Then, I overdrove it in qualifying and nearly wrecked. I’m not sure if we would’ve made the race even if I ran a clean lap, we had struggled with the truck all day, but I robbed us of any chance we might’ve had. I was embarrassed. I should’ve been.

Kevin, Steven, Danny, & David had nothing to be embarrassed about. They thrashed their asses off all year long. They rode in a pickup truck to every single race on our schedule – over 50,000 miles total. Then, to top it off, they worked for a team and a driver that had the most DNFs in the entire series. They had to scramble nearly every single week to not only repair a truck, but also to prepare it to qualify into the event on speed. They were worn down. They needed a break.

They never complained.

They were underpaid, overworked, understaffed, overstressed, and had no job security at all for the better part of a year and not one single time did they ever tell my dad or me it was too much. In fact, most of the time, they were the ones trying to cheer us up! They believed in the team they were a part of – a team with my name on it. It was humbling. They had a crappy job, a job that most people would’ve quit, but yet they treated it like it was the best opportunity they’d ever had. To an entire garage full of people, they transformed Martins Motorsports into the friendliest, most dedicated, most honest, most loyal, & hardest working team in all of NASCAR. They’re the finest group of men I’ve ever had the privilege of working with or driving for, and we were so blessed to have them.

My dad didn’t deserve the disappointment, either. He dealt with the emotional & financial weight of every single problem that popped up during our roller coaster season. It hurt him. He spent twice as much money as he’d planned on spending this year just because he loved me & believed in our team. He knew this was going to be our final foray into NASCAR, and he wanted to do everything he could possibly do to give us all the best chance to succeed. He honored every agreement he made, no matter the circumstances that were facing us. He’s the best man I’ve ever known, and I’m blessed to be able to call him my father.

Yet, we all stood there, leaned against our truck after we had pushed it back to the garage. We hugged. We shook hands. There weren’t many words spoken. I cried. We all did. People came by to ask what had happened, and we repeated to every one of them that we had missed the race. It was like we had to talk ourselves into the reality of it. Our pit crew manager came by to give his sympathies, and also collect their pay that we didn’t have. Team owners and representatives came by and lowballed us on offers for our qualifying tires. My dad got in an argument with Norm Benning over his use of our motor – a motor he agreed to start and park at Phoenix, but yet ran the entire length of the race, and now had tried to qualify for another.

It was our lowest point. The whole thing was a public slap in the face to all of us.

Kevin even had to explain to a few NASCAR officials that we had missed the race. They didn’t understand how. Neither do I.

Oh, I get the rules. That’s not the issue. I know that the top-27 fastest trucks in qualifying are locked into the race on speed, no matter their points position. I know that the next four spots are provisionals, given to teams with the most Owner’s Points that haven’t already qualified in the top-27. And I also know that the last position is reserved for a past champion, if there’s one in the field that hasn’t already qualified. So, I understand the rules. But, I don’t understand the rules.

You shouldn’t get rewarded for bringing a slow truck to the racetrack. So, I’m not that torn up about us missing the race. We qualified 31st in a 35 truck field. That’s not something I’m proud of. But I’m still trying to figure out how the trucks that qualified 33rd & 34th, both over three full seconds off the pace, got in when we didn’t. To me, that’s embarrassing. I don’t care what points position you’re in, if you bring a truck to the track that’s nearly four seconds off the pace, you shouldn’t be allowed to race. And that’s no disrespect to either Spencer or Travis. They’re both talented drivers. They weren’t the problem. I’m sure they hated every minute of it.

It’s called qualifying for a reason. Everyone should have to qualify for the event. That shouldn’t be a given. It’s not fair for 1/3 of the field to have to have the pressure to make it in on speed. We all should feel it! I want all those drivers on big teams to feel the same pressure that I feel week in and week out - if you make a mistake, you go home. That’s how it works at literally every level of stock car racing except for NASCAR. It doesn’t make any sense for the Truck Series (or Xfinity Series for that matter) to have provisional starting spots. We should take the fastest 32 trucks every time. I don’t care what your points are coming into the race. I don’t care if you’re a past champion. If you’re not one of the fastest 32 trucks, then you should go home.

If nothing else, we should reduce the amount of provisionals in the field, or place a limit to the number times you can use a provisional over the course of a year. The same teams shouldn’t be able to use one every single week to get bad trucks into races ahead of more competitive teams. There’s no way that the #63 of Mittler Bros should’ve missed the race at Bristol. There’s no reason the #45 of Casey Smith should’ve missed the race at Martinsville. Jordan Anderson should’ve been able to race at Atlanta this year. It’s a disgrace.

I didn’t write anything after our race at Homestead. I was too disappointed. Which, coincidentally, is a good way to describe our entire year. Disappointing. At times, we were a very competitive race team. Other times, we weren’t even close. We were inconsistent. We had a lot of really bad luck. Some of that we created, a lot of it we didn’t. But our guys never gave up. They worked so hard week in and week out. I hate they never got rewarded for it. We never got that one finish we were working towards…just a lot of maybes and almosts.

Admittedly, I live in the moment a little too much. I live and die with every weekend it seems. Martins Motorsports was a first year full time NASCAR truck series team. On top of that, we were a very small, underfunded team. There were going to be struggles. We had them. We learned from them. I think we’ve got a chance to make major improvements to our program next year, but right now I’m not completely sure we’re going to get the opportunity to do so.

We had some amazing partners this year; Diamond Gusset Jeans (special thanks to David Hall and everything you do for us) gave us way more than they should have. They overextended themselves for us, and I hope that we gave their awesome company & products some solid exposure this past season. BootDaddy took a chance on our team at Talladega, and we hope to have them back with us next year. RPM Trailer Sales helped us out with a great trailer that got us through an entire Camping World Truck Series season. Rodney & Lynn Riessen did more for our team than any other people besides my own mom and dad. They’re basically family at this point. 

The NASCAR offseason is an uncertain time for a lot of people. Martins Motorsports and our crew are in that same position. We’re not certain of our plans for next year. We know we can’t do it on our own. We’re going to have to get a major sponsor to help us run a full schedule again. We’ve got a few great prospects, but we’re not going to know anything for sure until later in January – not exactly an ideal position to be able to get your equipment, personnel, & gameplan in place for 2017.

I wish I had better news to share, but we’re in limbo. I’m pretty sure Tommy Joe Martins is going to race at least a few events next season, but I don’t know who it’s going to be with. I want it to be Martins Motorsports. I love our team. I know that’s the best situation for me. I want to keep us all together and keep this thing growing. I want to be involved with this sport for a very long time, but that starts with a few phone calls in January.

I can’t thank all of you enough for all your support. I know I’ve been a tough guy to root for. I don't want to be controversial; I want to be respected. Each one of your messages makes me feel like there are better times ahead for both me and our team. I look forward to sharing it all with you all again next year.

- Tommy Joe