Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: Ragin’ Cajun Hal Martin Tackles Daytona on New Orleans’s Biggest Weekend

Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch: You landed a ride with Mark Gibson for the weekend. You’re at one of the world’s most famous racetracks, driving for a guy that’s no stranger to ARCA. Talk about your upcoming weekend.

Hal Martin: I know a good weekend is upcoming for us. As you said, Mark Gibson has a great history in the sport, he knows what’s going on and has been around for a while. It’s truly a blessing to be matched with him and I’m real fortunate to have this ride for this race. I’m a little bit green when it comes to this ARCA Series, with only three starts, but I feel like I’ve done pretty good in the three starts that I’ve made (top-10 finishes at Chicago and Kansas, average finish of 7.7), that I’ve adapted quickly. I’m pretty confident going into the weekend, we’ve got a good car and crew behind us.

Keith: You’ve tested at Daytona and Talladega during the offseason. Your first laps in a plate car, what is it like going from the short track in Mobile, Ala. to the biggest tracks in stock car racing?

Martin: It’s a big, big jump, I’ll say that. Racing Mobile, that’s a little half-mile short track, in a late model that loves to hug the left side, that turns like a bullet, [let’s just say] these heavier ARCA cars drive a bit different. They’re so much heavier, they react a lot slower. You really have to drive them completely different, especially at these bigger tracks. The less wheel input you can put in, the less speed you’ll scrub off.

Keith: I know Mark [Gibson] has been out of the seat for a while now, but how much has he been able to help you with setups and getting your car right?

Martin: Even though Mark has been out of the seat, he’s really kept up well with what’s going on in the sport and he’s hired good people that have really stayed current. We’ve got a great crew chief working with me in Wayne Carroll, he’s been around ARCA for a while. Mark’s hired the right people and put the right people in place for us to have a successful weekend at Daytona.

Keith: This being a one-race deal, what are your ARCA plans for the remainder of 2010?

Martin: We’re trying to put together a full ARCA season. We’ve got Daytona locked up and we’re getting pretty close to getting the second race of the year at Palm Beach locked up. I think we’re going to race that race, so we’ve got two for sure, and after that it’s up in the air. We’re working on sponsorship, but as you know it’s hard in this economy. We’re kind of running an ARCA team like a late model team. We’re asking for sponsors wherever we can, whether it’s partial or whatever it may be. After the second race, I’m not sure what my season is going to hold.

Keith: Speaking of Palm Beach, talk about another drastic departure from a short track. Do you have any experience road-course racing, and from another perspective what are your thoughts on ARCA returning to road racing?

Martin: First of all, what I like most about ARCA is its diversity of tracks. They race at the biggest tracks in the country at Daytona and Talladega, the smallest tracks in country at Salem and the others they run, and then there’s road courses and dirt tracks all mixed in. It’s a very diverse schedule and the road courses will be exciting.

I’ve actually got a little bit of road-racing background. I started in shifter karts and that was all asphalt road-course racing, so I’ve got some experience there. I also attended a high performance driving school, which really honed my skills. We’ll see how well we can do. I’m excited to go down there and do some heel and toe shifting. Turn left and right for a change.

Keith: ARCA approved the 105-inch chassis this year to run in competition as well as the 110 inch. As a competitor, what kind of impact do you think that is going to have on the racing the fans see?

Martin: I think they’ll pretty much equalize. From the looks of it, and the reason I’m assuming they [made the change] is for economic reasons; all the Nationwide teams are going to be switching over to their new generation of car, so you’re going to have a lot of 105-inch wheelbase cars available. I think that’s the biggest reason for doing it, to get more people involved in ARCA.

But, I know a lot of teams are planning to stick with their 110-inch wheelbase cars because they know they’ll work. Really, until we see them at work on track we’re not going to know if there’s a real advantage or not. I can see maybe on the short tracks there may be some advantage with the shorter wheelbase, since the cars will react a lot quicker. If we do decide to run the full season, that may be something we look into as a team.

Keith: The ARCA race at Daytona always tends to have a lot of crashes. What is the strategy you’re going to employ to avoid the wrecks and be there at the finish?

Martin: Most of the wrecks seem to happen mid-pack on back. I know we have a good car, we’re set up really well, so my plan is to get out front and stay out front. Trouble can happen anywhere in the field, but chances are better up front to stay out of the Big One.

Keith: Being someone in their first plate race, how are you going to go about finding a drafting partner? Is it something where you’ll be talking to drivers ahead of time during the race or will you be finding someone as the race goes on?

Martin: Well, I’ve got a teammate in Leilani Munter and I believe she’s running in her first plate race as well. I’m sure we’ll work together some. I actually made friends in the three races I ran last year, did a good enough job to earn some respect from the rookies all the way to the veterans such as the likes of Frank Kimmel. So hopefully when they see me on the track, they’ll want to help out and draft with me. I think it’ll play out, the guys and girls with the fast cars tend to stick together and stay up front, and I feel we’ll be one of those.

Keith: Assuming that you don’t get to run the full ARCA schedule, who is the likely champion going to be?

Martin: That’s a tough one. But, it’s hard to go against experience, wins and championships under your belt. If we do get to run a full schedule this season, I think the one driver we’ll be battling out will be Frank Kimmel. He’d be my pick. He’s such a calm, cool, collected veteran that doesn’t seem to let things get to him during a race. I’d look to the veteran to take the championship this season.

Keith: I’ll close with this. You’re nicknamed the Ragin’ Cajun. Talk about your Saints.

Martin: We’re ready for a Super Bowl. The ideal weekend for me this weekend would be to win the ARCA race and then have the Saints bring home the Super Bowl. I live in New Orleans, and I tell you, the city’s been on fire the last few weeks, especially after winning the NFC championship.

Keith: Extra motivation for the race, knowing it could be a banner weekend for New Orleans?

Martin: No doubt it does. Racing’s not very big back home, so even when you’ve got a guy racing ARCA like myself it brings a fan following. A lot of people are pumped up about me going to Daytona, as well as the Saints being in the Super Bowl, so it’s going to be a good weekend. There’d be nothing better than to take home the ARCA race and have the Saints win the Super Bowl the same weekend. Who dat! Who dat!

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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