tommy joe martins

The Team by Thomas Martins

Martins Motorsports had the most successful day in company history Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway.

We qualified fourth overall. We won a heat race. We were running third in the main when the exhaust got knocked off the truck, putting us two laps down. Caution after caution, we couldn’t get the break we needed to get a lap back until later in the race, when we were positioned as the only truck two laps down, then the only truck one lap down. We finished the race as the last truck on the lead lap in 15th place.

J.R. Heffner was driving.

A lot of people tweeted, texted, and prodded me thinking I’d be upset seeing someone else have that much success in my truck. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was cheering harder than anyone! I haven’t met J.R., but from everything my father and our Crew Chief Kevin Eagle have told me about him, he’s a great guy. He’s humble, professional, & best of all, a terrific racer. He deserved every bit of praise he got for his performance Wednesday. He took a truck that was 29th in final practice, qualified it fourth overall, and ran the 5th fastest time of anyone during the race. He ran 75% of the race with the exhaust knocked off & fumes getting into the cockpit. It was a gutsy race from him and our crew.

That’s what makes me so happy. I’m happy for our guys. I’m happy for our team. We all deserve nights like Wednesday night. Even though in typical Martins Motorsports fashion they had to battle through some crazy circumstances, they proved just how competitive our team can be when all things are equal at a place like Eldora. That’s awesome.

But...I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous.

It’s my truck. They’re my guys. It’s my number. It’s my dad’s team. And J.R. did more with them in one race than I’ve been able to do in ten. Sure, Eldora is different. But of course I want to be the guy that has those big days for our team. So far this year, I haven’t been able to have any.

So, why did we let someone else come in and drive for me in one of the most prestigious races of the entire truck season? The short answer is simple. We have to put the team first. As for the long version, there were several factors.

Number one, we couldn’t afford it. Eldora is an awesome event, but it’s also a very unique event. Top teams build dirt-specific trucks to run it. As a small team, we can’t afford to buy or build a truck for only one event per year. Besides that, it’s a well-known fact that you’re going to completely tear your truck up when you go to Eldora Speedway. That’s dirt racing. Matt Weaver posted a great picture on twitter of the carnage in the post race inspection line. We’ve already got two torn up trucks, and another new one that needs a body. That’s enough fab work for us. We certainly couldn’t afford more.

J.R. owned the truck he raced at Eldora. Bobby Pierce ran it last year and nearly won in it. J.R. had run it in 2014 and finished 18th with it. The only problem was that J.R. didn’t have a team that could help get it ready and take him to the event. He wanted an experienced team that had been in the truck series all year. That’s where we came in. It was a perfect marriage. It was the only track he wanted to race at, and it was a great race for us to sit out and save our stuff for another week. It wasn’t an off week for my guys, that’s for sure. Our whole crew prepped, traveled, wrenched, & pitted just like any other week. The only difference was the guy behind the wheel.

J.R. is obviously a really good dirt racer. I’ve only run one dirt race in my entire life. It was a disaster. I literally hopped the back tire on top of the wall, dropped it back off the wall, and kept driving. The crowd loved it. I hated it. I wasn’t looking forward to Eldora. I wasn’t sure how I’d do. I think I’m a good driver and I’d adapt, but would I be as good as a guy like J.R. who’s run dirt for years? Probably not. He was a dirt track ringer, and he brought a lot of experience and knowledge to our race team.

The team comes first.

Not just because we couldn’t afford to buy a new truck. Not just because we couldn’t afford to wreck our only good truck. Not just because J.R. gave us the best chance to do well. We made this deal because it was the best thing for the company and the best thing for me.

It might seem like those are separate entities, but I assure you, they’re the same. My career has lived and died with our race team twice already. No one has ever called me to drive their car without asking me for money, and I’m not foolish enough to think anyone ever will. That’s the business. Even if it wasn’t, I haven’t ever had any major success in NASCAR. Sure, I’ve never had a chance on a competitive, front running team, but the facts are the facts. I’ve run 10 races this year in the truck series and I have one top-20 finish.

Even if someone did call, it wouldn’t be a top team. Those teams make drivers bring crazy money to race for them. I don’t have any money. And with my results so far this year, sponsorship is pretty hard to come by. I haven’t done anything this year (or in my entire career for that matter) to make my name stand out.

Start and park teams could call me, but why would they? They’d have to pay me. I’m not going to go out and finish dead last or drive a piece of junk for free. Plus, they could get someone more experienced than me for the same amount of money (a la Jeff Green in the Xfinity Series).

A mid-level team like JD Motorsports or JGL could have me race for them, but that’d be about the same sort of situation I’m in right now. Those teams both cap out around 15th in the Xfinity Series. With all the cup drivers and teams in that series, notoriety is pretty hard to come by when you’re finishing 15th.  And again, why me? They can get former cup guys to race those cars. And they’d much rather have someone bring them money than have to pay anyone themselves.

My only chance in NASCAR is with our team. I don’t get to race if we’re out of business. J.R. Heffner lifted our team up, got us some recognition, and made us some money. I can’t thank him enough for what he did for us and our company.

Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to prove that I’m a good driver. I’ve been waiting a long time for that moment. I think a lot of the guys in the garage respect me as a driver, but I don’t think I’m the first name that comes to mind when you think of racing overachievers. I want to be Ryan Sieg. I want to be Landon Cassill. I want to be the guy that people look to as the guy that’s doing the most with the least. I hate the idea that my career could end because of some bad luck this year, and I might never get that one big break that could lead to more NASCAR opportunities.

I don’t just want to be a driver. I want to be an owner. I want to be involved in this sport for a long time. I want to be able to give someone a shot to race at the highest level. I love NASCAR. Maybe the reason I’ve been so vocal & critical is because of how much I care. I think it’s the best sport in the world, and I’m constantly seeing ways to make it better for everyone involved.

I know that I’ll never make enough money to start my own NASCAR team. Luckily, my dad did. But, Martins Motorsports is a business, and just like any business, it has to be profitable to keep the doors open. So far, in the seven-year history of the company, we’ve never made a single dollar from it. I’ll never make enough money to be able to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars per year just to be involved in the truck series. I think it’s ridiculous that anyone should have to. Yeah, we do spend a lot less money than other teams, but it’s still a big time losing proposition without a sponsor footing at least some of the bill. Make no doubt about it, if we make it through the end of the year without a sponsor on the hood, it will have cost my father and my family a tremendous amount of money.

Hopefully it won’t be in vain.

I'm not begging for sympathy. We gambled. We thought if we got decent equipment, good people, and had a little luck, we could have a successful, break even, mid-pack NASCAR race team. So far we've done two out of three. Now, because of our bad luck, we're going to need more sponsorship or a bigger checkbook to make it through the rest of the year. Eldora helped. Not just financially, but mentally. It was a proud moment for all of us.

I’m looking forward to my next chance to get behind the wheel at Pocono. It’s a track I’ve always thought I’d be good at. Of course, we’ll be battling all the same challenges we normally face: less horsepower, no tires, yada yada yada. We’ll do all we can do. I’ll do all I can do. I want to be the one to give Martins Motorsports it's next big moment.

Each race is another opportunity.

My Health by Thomas Martins

Some of you guys might’ve seen me posting hospital pictures on my instagram and twitter accounts lately. Just to give you guys an update as to what’s going on, I had a tonsillectomy, turbinate reduction, & adenoid reduction on May 5th in Oxford, MS.

As for the why & the why now - this was a procedure I had talked about having for a long time. I’ve always struggled with sinus infections & sleep apnea, and this was the only long break we had left in the NASCAR Truck Series schedule until the end of the year. The full recovery period on this type of procedure is usually 2 to 3 weeks.

The procedure went well, but they had to put a stint in my nose because of just how much they took out of my nose – apparently my breathing passageway was somewhere around 70% blocked. My doctor told me I had the biggest adenoids & tonsils he had ever seen, so I guess I get the trophy on that one as well.

The first week of this recovery has sucked, and it got a lot worse a couple nights ago when the wound in my throat opened up while I was sleeping. At 5 am, my parents and I had to go on a mad dash to the hospital while we tried to stop the bleeding. There was A LOT of blood. It freaked me out a bit. I had to stay in the hospital overnight last night for monitoring but they felt like my throat clotted up well enough to send me home today.

There’s still a chance the wound could open up again – about 25% he told me – so I’m staying close to the hospital in case I run into any more complications. I’m scheduled for a checkup & to have the stint removed from my nose on Wednesday morning, so that should be a big checkpoint in the recovery process.

Thanks to everyone who’s reached out to check on me and wish me well in my recovery. As always, you guys are awesome.

I’ll keep you posted if anything changes, but as of now I’m 100% sure I’ll be ready to go at Kansas.

See you soon,

Tommy Joe

Bad Breaks by Thomas Martins

It seems like we’ve had a couple weeks worth of bad luck to start out the 2016 season. Before I get into the weekend in Atlanta I want to be sure to thank our wonderful sponsors - Diamond Gusset Jeans, our NEW sponsor, RPM Trailer Sales, & Riessen Construction.

I think the Diamond Gusset Chevy might’ve been the best LOOKING car in the entire field. This was the first race we ran our silver paint scheme, and I think it really popped. Big thanks to Brett Frankovich from Diamond Gusset & Rick Gaskins from Frontline Designs for their work on the scheme.

Also, it was a dream come true for me to be able to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. I saw my first NASCAR race ever at AMS in the early 90’s. My dad took me up to the turn four wall just as Darrell Waltrip was making a qualifying run in his Western Auto Chevy. He ran high off the corner, shooting tire rubber & dust up through the fence and all over my face. At that point, I was hooked. I wanted to be a NASCAR driver.

My dad and I attended more than a dozen races at Atlanta over the years. My grandmother lived in Atlanta, so we made a family trip out of the spring and fall races there. Through all my racing career, I’d never had the opportunity to race at Atlanta until this past weekend. My grandmother passed away this last year, and my mother and father were both sick with the flu, and were unable to attend the race. I hate that none of them were able to see it in person. But, this past weekend allowed me to check one of the final boxes off my racing bucket list.

It’s been rare in my NASCAR career that I’ve been able to hop in a really nice piece of equipment, but I can certainly say our Silverado was as nice of a race car as I’ve ever had the privilege to sit in. Kevin Eagle & Adam Deem did an awesome job prepping our truck for Atlanta, and it showed in how we unloaded.

We missed first practice because of a tech issue as well as a fifteen-minute time penalty we had to serve from Daytona. Being my first time at Atlanta, I was conservative the first few laps we ran in practice, which really hurt our chances of posting a GREAT lap time. With the tire fall off at Atlanta, your first two laps of a run are the best you’re going to get. We didn’t have another set of tires to make a mock qualifying run, so we just worked on race runs throughout the second and third practices. We wound up 23rd & 28th in practice times, which I didn't think was that bad given the fact that we never changed tires. I was expecting us to make a big pickup in qualifying.

We did…it just wasn't quite enough. We ran a 31.71 – only 8 tenths of a second off the pole speed – with our SB2 motor. I never lifted off the throttle the entire lap. Unfortunately, that was only good enough for us to finish 28th in qualifying. The reason that’s important is the top 27 trucks get locked into the race based on qualifying times. So, just like at Daytona, we “officially” made the race because of our position in the owner’s points standings. We need to somehow find a little more speed in qualifying, and that’s something Eagle and I talked about after the session ended. We’re really close! With our motor situation, it just becomes so important to maximize every other thing you can out of your setup & line in qualifying.

Disappointing. That’s the best way I know how to describe the race. I felt really good about our setup heading into the race, it was so consistent during practice, but as soon as the green dropped, we started getting really tight. It was also really tough for us to pass people. Every time I would pull up behind another truck, we would get even tighter because of the aero push.

To make things even worse, we had ANOTHER tire issue. About 25 laps into the race, we had just gone a lap down. As our spotter, Toby, called out 5 minutes left on the clock, I started feeling a vibration. This is where I made a terrible mistake as a driver. Instead of bringing it up, and letting the crew chief make a call, I kept my mouth shut thinking we’d be able to fix it at the caution.

Only a few laps later, the tire gave way in turn 4. I managed to keep the truck off the wall, but couldn’t get down to the inside quick enough to make it into pit lane. Instead, I had to get going back up to semi-speed and make an ENTIRE lap back around. It wound up costing us two laps. So, 35 laps into the race we were already 3 laps down.

From that point on, we made some pretty conservative calls and just focused on bringing the truck home in one piece. I felt another vibration around lap 70 or 80, and we decided to change tires under green just in case. That cost us another two laps.

Realistically, we should’ve finished one or two laps down. We didn’t have the speed to stay with the lead lap trucks. But, we were definitely faster than some of the trucks that finished in front of us, which is really frustrating. One of our biggest goals as a small team is to beat some of the other small budget teams. Two races into the year, we haven’t achieved that goal yet.

I’m encouraged by the communication Eagle and I are developing. He’s sharp. We’ll get better each race. I’ve been encouraged by all of our friends and supporters telling me to keep my head up through our struggles. We’ll bounce back. It’s a long season. And I’m looking forward to having a solid run at Martinsville.

Tommy Joe