The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
|Kathy Walker of Redwood attended first event when pregnant|
Kathy Walker, right, sits on the wall at Martinsville Speedway waiting to climb into a real Sprint Cup car during her Richard Petty Driving Experience.
Monday, July 29, 2013
By MIKE SMITH - Special to the News-Post
Kathy Walker's love affair with Martinsville Speedway began in a rather odd, non-traditional manner.
"The first time I ever came was to qualifying in April of 1998. I was eight months pregnant with my son Travis. I thought maybe it would help me get started in labor," Walker recalled.
The visit didn't help hurry Travis along, but it did begin a relationship with her hometown track that's only grown in the years since.
"The fall of '98 was my first race. We started camping at the track nine years ago, and we've only missed one race since then," said Walker of Redwood.
She will be near the front of the line when the Martinsville Speedway campground opens for the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger week in October.
"It has grown from just me and Kenneth (her husband) to six or seven campers of folks now," she said.
Walker made a non-race weekend trip to Martinsville Speedway recently, a visit maybe even more exciting than a race.
As a Mother's Day gift from her daughter Raven, probably with a little help from Kenneth, Walker climbed behind the wheel of a real Sprint Cup car as part of the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Martinsville Speedway.
Perhaps the only disappointment of the day was that she didn't get to drive a car decked out in the colors of her beloved Dale Earnhardt Jr. But she did pretty good driving a Brad Keselowski car with a top speed of just over 90 miles per hour.
"I wasn't nervous. I was too excited to be nervous," Walker said shortly after completing 20 or so laps. "I just wish there had been more laps."
It was difficult to tell who was more excited: Walker or the more than 20 family members and friends who had made the trip from Franklin County to cheer her on.
To the folks who traveled to the track and any of her friends and neighbors in Redwood, Walker's love of racing shouldn't be a surprise. She comes from a car family.
Her father, a life-long Ford enthusiast, has three restored vintage Fords, a 1936, a 1937 and a 1940.
Kathy and Kenneth's driveway looks like a Chevrolet showplace. They have a 1968 Camaro, a 1975 Corvette, a 2000 Monte Carlo, a 2004 Cavalier and a 1998 GMC pickup truck.
And while all the cars are showpieces, they are totally functional, driven on a regular basis.
It was her father's love of cars and racing in general and Fords specifically that got Walker hooked on racing early.
"I've been a fan since I was nine. My daddy used to yell for the kids to come and watch races with him on television and I was the only one that would come and watch," recalled Walker. "I started pulling for Dale Earnhardt then .... Probably because Dad was a Ford fan and he was in a Chevy."
When Earnhardt died in 2001, Walker didn't immediately jump on the Dale Jr. bandwagon.
"At the time I couldn't have cared less about Dale Jr.," she said.
But her young son Travis was a huge Dale Jr. fan and in the end, that relationship helped win Walker over.
"We were in line at an autograph session with Dale Jr. at the Martinsville hospital when Raven and Travis were really young," she said. "Security said Raven couldn't get close enough for Dale to sign her shirt. Junior said, 'sit her on the table.'"
"Travis wouldn't let Dale Jr. touch his hat. Junior looked at me and said, 'That's the cutest little boy I've ever seen.' Travis then slowly took his hat off and let him sign it. Junior was so kind to Travis that day ... and that's how I became such a big fan."
Race week at Martinsville Speedway is truly a week-long event for Walker, her family and friends.
Their campers are in line when the campground gates swing open days before the first race car cranks up. Because they live just a county away, they are back and forth to the campground until Thursday night or so, and then they settle in for the rest of the week.
"Martinsville is home. We've camped at lots of other tracks, but we always meet the nicest people here at the campground and the track," Walker said as she relaxed after her on-track excitement. "We have met other people who have camped everywhere and they tell us they've never met so many nice people anywhere else like at Martinsville."
The action is not bad either.
"The racing is the best at Martinsville," she said. "If they can't hit each other and go on with it, it's not racing. They can do that here."
And it won't be long before Walker and her family begin the annual late-summer preparation of their camping gear for the fall celebration at the race on Oct. 27.
The Goody's™ Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger is on Sunday. The Kroger 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race is set for Saturday, Oct. 26.
Pole Day will be held on Friday, Oct. 25.
Tickets for all events are now on sale.
Mike Smith is director of public relations at Martinsville Speedway.