Emotions by Thomas Martins

Shame is a terrible emotion to write about. 

It’s why I never wrote a blog about our race at Mosport. That’s the most embarrassed I’ve ever been in my racing career. We aimed for that race. We got a new (old KHI) truck prepared specifically for that race. We ran our good motor. We leased a transmission.

We were awful.

We missed first practice because we couldn’t get the truck fired up. Then it wouldn’t hold water pressure. It vibrated so hard it rattled the gauges out of the dashboard. It picked the front tires off the ground during cornering. We blew a rear end line and oiled down the track. I stunk. I felt like I never got a handle on hard braking or running a consistent line around the place. We qualified 28th. I pulled it off track after two laps because it felt like it was about to come apart. The pit crew we had lined up wasn’t allowed to participate. On top of all that, I got us torn up. I put us into side-by-side situations that we didn’t have to be in and made a crappy day a whole lot worse.

It was a disaster.

Mosport was the third race in a row where we left the track with damage. Chicagoland was the fourth. New Hampshire made five. We own four trucks, and all of them are wrecked. Two of them require complete body replacements. For a small team, that’s worst-case scenario. It’s hard for our guys to keep our trucks properly serviced and prepared when they’re off at the body shop. You can’t work on something that’s not there.

We weren’t great during practice or qualifying at Chicago. Our first lap on track was the fastest lap of both practice sessions – and it was an ugly lap. We bottomed out so hard that it sheared the truck arm mount 1/8th of an inch. Our truck struggled to get through the bumps on both ends of the racetrack. Our qualifying lap was two-tenths slower than our practice lap. It didn’t make any sense. 

My dad was upset. He had a good right to be. We were running our ECR Engine, yet we got out-qualified by a few old-style SB2 motors. It was frustrating. We’ve done things to try to improve our performance on track in the hopes of attracting some new sponsors to our race team, and it seems like we don’t have anything to show for it.

When the race started, we were tight. In the middle of the race, we were even tighter. But, we managed to stay on the lead lap. We kept working on it. Kevin never got upset when I kept telling him how awful it was, he just put his head down and came up with ways to fix it. We dodged a big wreck late in the race, and the race got red flagged. We wanted to pit, but we were out of tires. Almost as if they were sent from heaven above, one of the crashed trucks offered us a set of 3 lap scuffed tires for a good price, and we jumped all over it. Good thing we did. After we made our stop, we discovered an inch-long gash in a tire from running through the debris of the accident.

We were in a good spot - inside the top 20, on the lead lap, with fresh tires and less than 30 laps to go. Our truck was GREAT on the short run. We took off on restarts as well as any truck in the field. I was able to weave my way up inside the top 15 before we got another caution with around 20 to go. I was excited.

On that restart, we took off again. As everyone began to spread out, I found myself in a battle with the #71 Josh Berry & the #51 Daniel Suarez. We were racing hard. As hard as I’ve raced all year. I could tell Daniel was getting a little frustrated with us, but I didn’t care. I felt like we were faster. We had fresher tires. We were running faster times than 2 of the trucks in front of us. I wanted more. I wanted to clear him and get to work on chasing them down.

Daniel got a run on us down the front stretch. I was about one groove down from the wall, and as I checked my mirror, I could see he was gaining on us. I moved up the track to arc my way into turn 1, and Daniel kept his foot in it and hit us. I got pretty sideways. We were already going into the corner faster than we had all day. As I tried to gather it up, I think Daniel got loose underneath us and hit us again. I shot up the track and into the outside wall.

I immediately regretted what I had done. I said over the radio that I should’ve known better than to race him hard. I know Daniel Suarez doesn’t give a crap about truck races. He thought I was holding him up. He thought I cut him off. So he hit us. He hit us bad enough that another driver messaged me after the race to ask if Daniel had apologized for it. He hasn’t. I don't expect him to.

My spotter, Toby, went looking for Daniel’s spotter. When he asked him what happened, Daniel’s guy said, “That’s what he gets for being a lap down and holding us up.” Obviously, we were on the lead lap battling for position. I guess the big teams just assume we’re bad and race us like they’re mad we’re putting up a fight.

He wrecked us on purpose. No doubt about it.

I’ve had a hard time carrying the emotional weight of this season. I’m tired. Earlier this year I was angry. Bitter at how bad our luck was and how we could never catch a break. Now I’m exhausted. Depressed. After the wreck, I sat by the truck in the garage for a while. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Several people came up to me and asked if I was alright. I wasn’t alright. A week and a half later I’m still not alright.

Why do we continually get punished for doing something I love?

The thing that gives me more joy than anything in the world has been a burden on us for nearly eight years now – both emotionally & financially. I can’t remember the last time I left a racetrack feeling happy. I can’t begin to tell you how many emails we’ve sent to sponsors only to hear nothing back. Or how many people have told us they were interested only to go cold and never return a phone call. How many people we’ve hired to find sponsors who have only taken our money and given us nothing in return. How many times we’ve been told how much better things will be when we make a change, or buy a motor, or hire a new person, only to show up to the racetrack and have things go the same way.

I long for the day that justifies it all. That one moment where we finish in the top 10, or the top 5, or in victory lane and we can finally have some relief. A moment where someone comes up and talks to me about what a great job I’ve done on track instead of about something I’ve written in this blog. Talladega in 2014 was the last time we had a moment like that. All we did was finish 14th. No one cared except us, and that was okay.

I’m not angry at Daniel Suarez for wrecking us. I’m jealous of him. He gets to do something I’ve never been able to do in my whole life. He’s allowed to race with absolutely no consequences. If he tore up a racecar every single week, it wouldn’t matter. He thought I was holding him up, so he moved me out of the way. Simple. I’ve never been able to do that. My whole life has been race as hard as you can -- but please don’t tear anything up. I’ve failed miserably lately, and our team is suffering because of it.

He gets to race for wins. I race for top 20’s. He gets interviewed every time he walks down pit road. We haven’t been interviewed on television all season (big shout to Clair B. Lang for having me on her show a few times and talking to me at the racetrack; it means a lot). Every time Daniel shows up at a NASCAR race he thinks he’s got a shot to win the race. I haven’t been able to say that outside of Daytona & Talladega since my ASA days in 2009. At times, I’ve wondered if I even know how to win a race. If I ever had the opportunity, would I be able to capitalize on it? When you struggle seemingly every single time you show up to a racetrack for eight long years, you start to question your abilities.

Daniel Suarez gets to be a racecar driver.

A racecar driver doesn’t concede a position inside the top-15 with less than 20 laps to go in a race. I can guarantee Daniel Suarez has never been told to allow someone to pass him because they’re racing him hard at the end of a race. But that’s what my spotter, owner, and crew chief all thought I should’ve done. Moved over. Let him go. 

Screw that. 

That’s revisionist history, and I’m not going to listen to it. Of course it would’ve been better not to tear our truck up. That’s easy to say after it happens. The only time I get any relief is when I’m in that truck. That’s the only time I truly get to be stress-free. I don’t have to worry about tires or damage or expenses. All I have to do is drive as fast as I possibly can. It’s the only release I have. 

So I’m not going to apologize for doing the one damn thing I’ve been trying to do all year: be competitive. We’ve struggled and scratched and clawed to get to the point where we can run in the top 20 and top 15 on a regular basis, and now that we’re here I’m just supposed to move over and let people pass me at the end of a race so we don’t risk tearing anything up?

If we want to take that approach, then we’re doing it wrong. We need to sell our good motor and only run SB2’s. Who cares where you qualify? We can just ride around and never race anyone and see where we wind up at the end of the race. We don’t ever need to hire a fast pit crew. Who cares if you pick up any spots on pit road? We don't ever need to buy good tires. Lap times don’t matter when you’re planning on running around in the back anyway.

The polite way of putting all that is “managing the race.” Norm Benning made it famous in the truck series. Norm wasn’t there to race anyone. Norm was there to get paid. The only way to make money in our series is to drastically limit expenses & exposure to accidents. Norm made a living doing it -- until this year. The competition level in the truck series is as high as it’s ever been. So, we’ve had to step our program up much more than we originally planned just to give ourselves an opportunity for top-20 finishes. Of course, when you race, you make yourself vulnerable.

We tried to manage our race at New Hampshire, but we got some right front damage by colliding with Ryan Truex when Cole Custer spun up in front of us. Everything got bottled up, and we had nowhere to go. I tried my best to stay off of him, but I don't think there was much I could’ve done. It wasn’t serious, but it still cost around a thousand bucks to fix. It’s the exact reason we considered starting and parking the race. But when it came down to it, we couldn't. 

That’s not why we’re out here. We’re out here to race. 

My dad and I had a long talk in New Hampshire about how much we’ve spent this year and how much more we think it’s going to cost to make it through the end of the season. We’re over budget. When you tear this much stuff up in a year, there’s no way to avoid that. But he spent most of his time telling me how proud he was of me for the job I’ve done this year, and that no matter what happens, Martins Motorsports is going to make it through this season.

I didn’t show it at the time, but that had a profound emotional impact on me.

My family has overextended themselves to finance my career. The son in me feels a tremendous amount of guilt for that. But the racecar driver in me can’t worry about crashing when I show up to a racetrack. I’ve allowed my shame & guilt to seep into other parts of my life as well, and I’m tired of feeling so beleaguered while getting to live out a lifelong dream. My family is tired, too.

We all have to make peace with the fact that this season, and my whole racing career, might never get that shining, justifying moment.

Even if it doesn't, it won’t be in vain. Yes, racing has been incredibly stressful, but it’s also a blessing to have something this big that we can share together. My dad doesn’t love racing. He loves me. And because of that, he’s tried to do everything he can do to give me an opportunity to do something that I love to do. It gives me tremendous joy to go out and compete at a high level against some of the best drivers in the world, and my mother and father take joy in being able to see me do it.

That’s enough for me now.

I’ve finally realized why I write this blog. It’s not for media coverage. It’s not for fans. It’s not to complain about NASCAR, or another driver, or a lack of funding. It’s the only way I know to tell our story: the story of my family, my team, and I going through this amazing journey, together. If I didn’t tell it, no one would. And if this is all I ever get to do in this sport, then I don’t want to forget a single thing. Not one result, good or bad. Not one emotion, painful or positive.

It’s our story. And it’s not over just yet