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

Zeros by Thomas Martins

There are seven columns next to driver names on the NASCAR point standings page. 

The first is points. I have 171, only good enough for 22nd position. The next is starts. I have 18, with my only two skips being at Martinsville (crashed in qualifying) and Eldora (JR Heffner ran with us). The next four are poles, wins, top-5’s, & top-10’s. For me, those columns are zeroed out. The last column is DNF’s (Did Not Finish). I have six, more than any other driver.

Racing is a selfish sport. Even though preparing and racing a truck every week takes a team effort, there's only one name listed on that results page. The responsibility for success and failure in stock car racing ultimately falls on the driver. So far this year, I haven't had much.

I’ve tried to have a different outlook on things during the final stretch of our season. I know how lucky I am to get to live my dream to be a NASCAR driver. It’s been a tumultuous season to say the least, but it’ll be something I look back on with pride and fond memories.

At the same time, when I look at those empty columns I’m frustrated by missed opportunities. I see a cut tire at Daytona. I see a brake failure at Martinsville. I see a bad restart at Michigan. I see a motor issue at Kansas. I see a wreck at Chicagoland. After these last two races at Talladega and Martinsville, it’s hard not to be disappointed again. I knew they would be my best remaining chances at getting something I’ve been chasing for a very long time now – a NASCAR top-10 finish.

Our Talladega truck had a brand new body, brakes, and a brand new RO7 motor. We had a new sponsor,, on the hood and quarter panels. Our truck looked great. I was excited. 

Then we got to the track.

We had trouble getting through templates. We missed the first practice. When we got out on track in second practice, we didn’t have the single car speed that we wanted. We knew that with the field size we’d probably need to qualify in the top-27 on speed to make it into the race, and at the end of second practice it was too close for comfort.

Kevin tried to max out everything he could on the truck to find some more straight-line speed – so much so we got a 15-minute practice penalty at Martinsville for failing qualifying tech three times. Because of our struggles in practice, we were the second truck to qualify.

As soon as I took the green flag, I knew we would be in trouble. We were only pulling 7400 RPM at the start/finish line – 400 RPM less than we had in our practice runs. And sure enough, our time slowed down by half a second. It wouldn’t be good enough for the top-27. We had to make the race on points.

We stood on pit road with Randy Little, the owner of, & David Hall, the owner of Diamond Gusset Jeans, and tried to explain to them exactly how we needed the cards to fall for us to make the race. Believe me, that’s a really crappy feeling. Randy had paid for commercials to pair with his advertising on our truck, and we were breaking the news that he might not even make the race.

Only a few trucks really mattered to the outcome: the go-or-go-home trucks lower in the owner’s point standings. The two main concerns were Parker Kligerman in the #75 and the #10 of Clay Greenfield. We beat Clay by six thousandths of a second. Parker had a brake issue that slowed down his run. That was the difference. If either of them had qualified in the top-27, we would’ve gone home.

Of course, once the race started, qualifying speed got thrown out the window. Talladega was my first real restrictor plate race in a truck (Daytona got cut short because of a blown right front tire). I was really surprised at just how much you had to be out of the throttle. In the bottom lane, I was basically 75% throttle down the backstretch in order to stay off the truck in front of me. 

We moved up quickly from our starting position into the top-20, and for the most part, we stayed around the top-15 all day. There were a couple of bad wrecks right on front of us that we had to weave through. I got into Rico Abreu a couple times while trying to weave through them. In one incident through the tri-oval, I was certain I wrecked him. After watching the replay of the angle he was aimed towards the wall, I still have no idea how he saved it. The second time, we went door to door as I sliced my way through the big one in turn 1. That was a bad wreck that took out a lot of trucks. It’s the most safety vehicles I have ever seen on a track in my life. Just glad everyone was okay. 

The race played out in our favor. We made it through the wrecks. We got ourselves in a good position for a top-10 finish. We were 12th & 10th during the final few restarts. 

Down the backstretch on the white flag lap, Matt Tift gave a bump to William Byron right in front of me in the top lane. I don’t think he centered him up because William got a little crossed up and got into Rico in the bottom lane. I had to make a really quick decision to either check-up and stay behind William as he gathered it up, or go behind Matt as he made it three wide on the high side. 

I went with Matt. 

It wasn’t the right call. But on the last lap down the backstretch at Talladega, I was NOT going to lift. As we got into turn 3, I couldn’t clear William and get back down to the second lane. It was so close. I’ve watched the replay several times. If I was clear, it was by an eyelash. When I hesitated, he got a good pull and we got hung up on the outside three-wide. When I came off turn four, I was in 10th. By the time I got to the line, I got shuffled back to 16th.

It was really, really disheartening. That one decision defined our whole day. But, our sponsors had a great time & we made it through Talladega with minimal damage to our race truck. Those are very positive things. We also got some solid television coverage for the right reasons. I have to give a big thanks to Michael Waltrip & Phil Parsons for their encouragement throughout our season.

Our hopes were high heading into Martinsville. In the spring race, we were 8th fastest in the first round of qualifying before our brakes failed. Now, we didn’t get to bring the same truck (it was still at the body shop because of our crash at Chicagoland) but Kevin put the exact same setup on it that we had in the spring.

Unfortunately, it didn’t have the same speed.

Martinsville was a good example of just how important tires are. Goodyear allows you to bring a practice set of tires to the racetrack. So, we brought a set of warehouse tires for practice. They’re available for most races, and cost around $600 - $1,600 less than a new set. The problem is that they aren’t EXACTLY the same tire you’re running on that weekend (they were manufactured at a different time, and have been sitting in a warehouse aging for a lot longer than a new tire), and they can give you bad feedback on how your truck is handling. 

That happened to us this past weekend.

Our truck was extremely tight in first practice, so we loosened it up quite a bit. Then it was far too loose. Our tires weren’t wearing consistently during practice. I hated how the truck was handling, but we couldn’t be sure if it was setup or just a tire issue. When we left the track, we weren’t totally sure of exactly what we had. And, just like at Dega, we knew qualifying would mean everything when it came to getting into the race.

It’s hard to describe the mindset of a driver going into a qualifying session when you know that it’s a go or go home situation. You’re the guy an entire team is relying on to provide their paycheck for the week. No matter how bad the truck is driving, and regardless what anyone says before or afterwards, all the pressure/blame is squarely on your shoulders.

I’ve missed races in my career. I should’ve missed a few more this year. At Bristol I totally overdrove the truck in qualifying and we only got in because the #63 truck got bumped by less than one hundredth of a second. I was determined not to make the same mistake at Martinsville.

My dad told me afterwards that he nearly gave up after our first lap. It was only a 21.20 – more than a second off the pace we needed to make the race. Our second lap was a 20.40. And as I came across the line for our third lap, we hit the rev limiter – a sign that we were really getting a good run off the corner. We lit up a 20.11 on the stopwatch, good enough for 13th at the time, and our spotter Toby Whealdon called me off down the backstretch. I felt like our best lap was going to be the fourth lap, but at the time, it was 100% the correct call. All we had to do to make the second round of qualifying was be 24th.

Of course, we dropped to 25th. 

I went back out right before the end of the first round to see if we could bump our way into the second round, but we just missed. When I pulled out for my second run, I accidentally got out in front of the #62 truck, who was still trying hard to make the race. It was my fault. They were mad afterwards, and had good reason to be. Now, they were still over a second off the time they needed to make the show, but it still wasn’t a courteous thing to do to another small team.

When the race started, our truck felt okay. We picked up a few spots and fell in line on the bottom with a big pack of trucks. But about 15 laps into the run, our truck got very loose. There was no rear grip in the center of the corner, and no forward bite off the corner at all. We fell a lap down, and made a big track bar change on the first pit stop.

It didn’t help. By the end of the day, we had dropped the bar 12 rounds, and our left rear tire pressure was down to seven pounds. We were still loose. To make things worse, I had no brakes. Tire rubber blocked off our brake ducts, and our brakes had no way of cooling down. By lap 75, the pedal was basically to the floorboard.

I spun out by myself one time trying simply because I couldn’t get the thing to slow down. It was a frustrating race. I played defense all day. Matt Crafton knocked me out of the way one time because I got hung up passing a lapped truck. Much like Talladega, the best thing that happened at Martinsville was leaving with a truck in one piece.

Even through all our struggles the last few weeks, there have been positives. Bootdaddy got a great response from their sponsorship at Talladega, and decided to come on board with us again as a hood sponsor at Texas this weekend. Diamond Gusset extended their sponsorship with me into the 2017 season. I can’t say enough about David Hall, his company, and their belief in me as a driver and an ambassador for their brand. While their sponsorship isn’t a big money deal in the NASCAR world, it’s a big deal to us, and we’re extremely thankful.

The last time we ran our Texas truck with an R07 motor in it, we ran in the top-15 before a crash at Chicagoland. I’m hoping we can have the same type of speed this weekend, and gain some positive momentum heading into the last few weeks of the year. Our guys & our sponsors deserve a great finish.

Oh, and I’d like one, too.

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

Expectations by Thomas Martins

We made a big move before Michigan: we bought a motor. Because of that, our goals have shifted as a race team.

Now, we shouldn’t have bought it. It was expensive. It’s only good for four races. But we wanted to know. We HAD to know. We’ve been down on power all year with our SB2 engine program. We’ve been told it's as much as 25 to 40 horsepower on the top end. More on the low end of the RPM band. Even more on the torque scale.

So, how good could we be with a solid engine under the hood? At Michigan, we found out.

I was nervous before the weekend. It was a huge commitment by my father to get this motor for us. I wanted it to be worth it. If we had gone out in practice and wound up 24th again, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Luckily, we weren’t. We were 17th. The first thing Eagle and my dad asked me was, “Can you tell a difference?” The answer was yes. Oh my goodness yes. It was night and day.

We all breathed a sigh of relief.

Now, we weren’t unrealistic with our expectations. We didn’t think simply dropping a better motor in our truck would immediately put us to the front of the truck series field. There are a lot of top tier teams that we’re not going to be able to compete with from a resource standpoint. Our goal was to put ourselves solidly in that second tier of teams alongside Hattori Racing, Young Motorsports, Bolen Motorsports, NEMCO, AWS Racing, and Ricky Benton Racing. We think we did that.

That’s what’s been so frustrating about our year. I’ve spoken time and time again about what I think the potential of myself and our team is. But I’ve been unrealistic with what I thought we could achieve with our SB2 program. We were a third tier team while running SB2’s. We SHOULD'VE been competing with Premium Motorsports, MAKE Motorsports, Mittler Bros. Racing, Contreras Motorsports, and Bobby Dotter every week. With this new engine, the door is open for us to legitimately compete for top-10’s and top-15’s consistently. We think we’re a lot closer to a top-15 team than what we’ve been able to show so far this year. We proved that at Michigan.

Of course, we had some struggles, too.

We had a tire rub in practice that nearly ended our weekend before it got started. We cut a left rear tire down going into turn 3 at nearly 180 mph, but luckily I was able to gather it up and get it down to pit road without any damage. We dodged a bullet. We didn’t have a backup truck. A wreck would’ve sent us home.

We never got a chance to do a lot of drafting in practice because of the rub. When we did get around a few other trucks, we were competitive. We made some passes, and the truck handled okay in a pack. A little tight, but overall pretty good. I told Kevin I thought it was our best handling intermediate truck since Kansas earlier this year. 

I was optimistic for qualifying. I thought we’d be a top-15 truck on speed. That was ambitious. We wound up 20th. That bummed me out. We were essentially the on the tail end of the “fast” trucks. There’s usually a gap on the speed charts between the tiers of teams in our series, and we found ourselves right in the middle of that second tier. I wanted us to be a little closer towards the front of it. Maybe that’s too much to ask for the first race we ever ran with that motor. I just thought we’d pick up more than we did in qualifying trim. 

It wasn’t even our best 1.5 mile qualifying effort of the year. We were 19th at Kansas. Only 20th at Michigan. Yeah, we were a lot faster speed wise, but it didn't translate to much improvement on the charts. For us to not even post our best positional qualifying effort was pretty disheartening.

The race played out about as we expected. There were some really hard crashes and we managed to get around them cleanly. We ran inside the top-20 all day. But, I had a brake issue late in the race. I got on the brakes really hard to get around Spencer Gallagher's crash and was worried I might have warped a rotor. I could feel a hard vibration anytime I was on the brakes under caution.


It was decision time. We were running in the top-15, and pitting to check it out would cost us all of our track position. If it was something more serious though, it could wreck us and really put us in a horrible spot. Kevin and my dad deferred to me to make the decision. There was no chance I was coming down pit road.

I knew this was our chance at a top-10 finish; something neither myself nor my team have ever been able to have.

We were in a great position going into the final restart. I was sitting 12th, in the preferred outside lane. I felt good about our restarts all race. Our motor was getting up through the gears as well as any truck in the field. I focused in during the final caution. I was ready. I knew how critical getting a good jump was going to be for our chances to crack the top-10. As we came to the green, someone in my lane missed a shift. It might’ve been the #51 truck but I’m not totally sure. We were the first ones to get bottled up. Ben Kennedy had nowhere to go and smashed into the back of us, bending our bumper up under our fuel cell and damaging our right rear quarter panel. I got shuffled back and wound up only managing to finish 15th.

I was extremely disappointed. Who knows how many chances we’ll get at a finish like that. And for our truck to get damaged on the very last restart of the race…it just sucked.

I commiserated with Austin Wayne Self after the race, who also had some horrible luck during that last restart and fell from 8th back to mid-pack. We’re snakebit. I ran as good a race as I’ve ever run in my NASCAR career and we still didn’t get anything to show for it. Jordan Anderson finished right in front of us with an SB2. Travis Kvapil finished only three spots behind us. Tyler Young finished 10th. The same guys we compete with every week wound up around us in the final results, even when we were faster than them all weekend. I was disheartened. I mean why even buy that motor if we’re just going to finish roughly in the same place as usual and still get wrecked. What’s the point?

My dad had to calm me down. Finally, after some counseling, I was able to see the big picture. Yeah, we caught another tough break at the end of the race, but look at where we were. We were 12th with 8 to go and had a real shot to get a top-10. That’s something we’ve never had before. It might not have wound up the way we wanted, but we gave ourselves a chance. If we keep improving, that’s going to be a normal situation instead of an extraordinary one. 

I had my career best finish & tied the best ever for our organization. I shouldn’t be upset after something like that. But, I know we’re running out of chances to do something great this year. I just felt like I let a chance slip through my fingers. And by comparing us to some other teams, it made me feel even worse. I shouldn’t do that. I should worry about us. Martins Motorsports had a very solid day.

But, our expectations are even higher going into our race this weekend at Canada.

Some of you might not know, but I'm a driving instructor at Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain right outside Las Vegas, NV. Most of the time, I’m working there between races. It’s the official driving school of Corvette Racing. It’s an awesome job. I work with some extremely talented racers. They’ve made me a much better driver during my two years out there, and I can’t thank all of them enough for how encouraging they’ve been through all of our struggles this season.

When the NASCAR guys want road course training, Spring Mountain is one of the places they go. The guys I work with every day have coached guys like Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, Daniel Hemric, Ross Chastain, and several others. As far as I’m concerned, I’m representing all of us this weekend. I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself in that regard. I spent time this week studying the previous races. I spent hours on iRacing at another instructor’s house trying to learn as much as I possibly could about the track.

I’m expecting a lot out of myself.

So is our team. We knew we’d have a chance to get a solid finish at a road course with me behind the wheel, so we prepared a truck specifically for this weekend. Road course spindles, brakes, a new rear end, lease transmission – you name it, we’ve gotten our truck as prepared as we possibly could for Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. It's not the best truck in the field, we know that. All the top organizations build trucks from the ground up every year specifically for this race. We couldn't do that. But we did as much as we could.

We’re not up here to get a top-15. We’re up here to win the race.

It’s the first time I’ve ever shown up to a racetrack in NASCAR and thought I had a chance to win a race outside of Daytona or Talladega. Anything less than a great finish will be a disappointment.