The year was 1977 and Craig Road Speedway was a buzz of activity. The annual Fall Open competition event had lured an estimated 200 top-top notch stock cars from all over the country.
The Fall Open Competition had drivers from Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Wisconsin, Utah, Canada, Colorado and Oregon, to name a few. A tiny quarter-mile paved oval was gold in those days. Mark Martin was among several drivers that included Wisconsin’s Dick Trickle, Larry Phillips and a host of other top-notch drivers from Southern California.
As a sports writer I was always looking for angles for stories. Per a phone call that I received from track marketing director Larry Horten, I learned about a teen age driver named Mark Martin, who allegedly dominated states throughout the South and Midwest where short track racing was huge.
Horten was the king of race track promoters and he could work every angle. I knew it wouldn’t be long before he would be calling me to tout the talent of the drivers.
Sure enough, the call from Horten arrived. He had a long list of alleged quotes from Martin, who was dominating the Midwest and South as a teenage kid. I was so impressed with the roster of super stars that I said in the story that Martin was the equivalent of Super Man coming to Las Vegas for the open comp in October.
I thought the pitch was awesome, and Horten agreed. A teenage kid was about to light Las Vegas on fire.
The only problem was that Martin was upset, as I would learn while heading through the pits of Craig Road Speedway.
“Is your name Mike Henle?” was the question from Martin, who I didn’t know.
“Yep, that’s me,” said yours truly.
“Well, I didn’t say all that crap that was in the paper,” said Martin, who was apparently miffed about me referring to him as the Super Man of short track racing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
I was stunned that Martin was upset about his new title. The only downside was that that he didn’t do well at CRS. With all of the competition of the Open Comp, it was understandable. The field of cars was endless.
Martin and I went separate directions, and both of us figured we’d never meet up again.
However, Martin would go on to win the Las Vegas 400 event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I was working in the press room at the time, and media executive Jan Shaffer would quickly let me know that I was handling the media press conference for the winner.
I accepted Shaffer’s assignment and went into the press room of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
I stood up and per Shaffer’s request, started the press conference wondering if Martin remembered who I was.
“Mark, I remember you at Craig Road Speedway during the open comp, and you didn’t have a very good day,” I said.
Martin was perfect, and immediately responded by leaning back in his chair to celebrate.
“Well, Look at me now,” he said while propping up his feet on a chair.
Martin was perfect, and I breathed a sigh of relief, considering that I had survived my fist-ever big-time NASCAR press conference at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 1, 1998.
To be honest, I was scared to death that Martin would read me the riot act.
Martin has had the best of two worlds losing at Craig Road Speedway and winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Those aren’t bad odds.