Mark Martin has been retired from NASCAR since after the 2013 season, but he remains one of the sport’s most enduring figures. Throughout his illustrious career, Martin won 40 Cup races, 49 XFINITY (formerly Nationwide and Busch) Series races, and seven Truck Series races. The only thing that eluded Martin (a 2017 inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame) was a Cup championship.
Still, there are no regrets for the legendary iron man as he lives outside the spotlight and enjoys spending more time with family and pursuing other endeavors. In this CSJ Conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Martin talks about his faith journey, the importance of character, and how on-track ministry impacted his life:
Bonham: Why do you think you got such great respect from the other drivers?
Martin: It makes me feel like that’s sort of reaping what you sow. It makes me feel good about the decisions that I’ve made and the code that I’ve lived by and raced by. It’s something that I’m proud of.
Bonham: Tell me a little bit about your faith journey.
Martin: As you know, you use it or lose it. Through all the years of my career, when I’ve had to work on my own race cars and drive up and down the road in the haulers, that was sort of a time period when you’re sort of losing it because you weren’t able to use it. I always have to thanks (the late) Max Helton and everyone from (Motor Racing Outreach) who had not only enabled me to grow and to practice and surround myself with other people that had a hunger for that as well, but also had a tremendous influence on my son Matt. It’s an incredible organization that has meant so much to me and my family.
Bonham: You were known for being pretty good at keeping your composure during heated moments on the track. Why was that?
Martin: Your character is slowly built and quickly eroded. You’re definitely influenced whatever you are immersed in and whatever you’re around and what you’re a part of. I’m far from perfect but I have managed to earn a good deal of respect by trying to implement the kinds of things you learn about. I try. I’m not always successful. But I try to treat the people the way I want to be treated. I really try to keep that in mind, but it doesn’t always work. Your faith shapes the kind of person that you are. I think what you study and what you believe in has an influence in the way you live.
Bonham: How have you used your platform as a prominent Christian in NASCAR?
Martin: I don’t think that I’m the smartest guy around, so I’m better off to keep my mouth shut as much as I can rather than opening my mouth and proving to people that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m more of a leader by example than I am a preacher.
Bonham: So you weren’t interested in speaking at chapel services?
Martin: (Laughs) I would rather not. I just don’t feel like I have enough authority to do so. Preaching is a calling and mine is to lead by example. Obviously you can look at things however you choose to and I’m not proud of some people in sports, but I don’t really look at it as my calling to be out there setting an example. I just try to treat people the way that I want to be treated—with respect and some dignity.
Bonham: How does that philosophy translate into the way you’ve raised your son Matt?
Martin: I’m not comfortable telling my kids how they should be or how they should think or how they should act or anything else. I’m not comfortable with that. He’s not blind. He can see. Kids pick up and absorb a lot more than you think they do. I try to do what I think is right, and I try to lead by example. Miss Jackie (Pegram of MRO) took care of him for so long. For many years they would come to races and he would go to Bible clubs. They used to have a pretty good number of kids at that time. There’s not as many now. A lot of young drivers in the sport don’t have kids right now. But you reap what you sow. Faith has an influence on who you are.
Bonham: What are your thoughts on former teammate Matt Kenseth?
Martin: I think he’s one of the best drivers in NASCAR. He’s incredibly smart and has great integrity. He’s one of my very favorites.
Bonham: What has the Petty family meant to stock car racing?
Martin: Richard’s The King. That pretty much sums that up. But Kyle in my opinion is the man of the century. He really is a great man. I’ve known him closer than I know Richard since the early ‘80s and he’s just an incredible individual and human being. Richard should be so proud to have a son like that.
Bonham: I assume a lot of that admiration has to do with his Victory Junction Gang Camp. How have you personally supported that facility?
Martin: I do whatever we can from visits to appearances to fundraisers—whatever we can do to help out. It’s an incredible undertaking and they’ve been victors in that. It’s phenomenal to sit around and think, “Yeah, I’d like to do that one day.” (But to) put something like that together, that’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication by a lot of people. Like I said, Kyle Petty is, in my opinion, man of the century.
Mark Martin one of several prominent drivers featured in the book Faith in the Fast Lane: How NASCAR Found Jesus.
(Photos: Courtesy of NASCAR Media; Patrick McDermott/Getty Images for NASCAR; Harry How/Getty Images via NASCAR Media)