Behind the Chase: Matt Martin follows father's tire tracks

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Each week during the Chase for the Nextel Cup, Krista Voda will profile a family member or team member of one of the drivers in the Chase.

He calls his crew members, "Heroes." They call him, "The man." A 13-year old boy in Florida simply calls him, "Dad."

Learning to drive: Make way for Matt

Perhaps the funniest part of my interview with Matt was all about driving. Matt informed me that he turns 14 in two months. Of course, that means he is still two years away from being able to legally drive on public streets... even though he's behind the wheel all of the time on a racetrack. But here's the funny part. Matt may actually turn out to be a terrible student in drivers' education. The reason? He only knows how to left-foot brake, which he does in his race car. Matt will have to completely re-teach himself how to drive a street car... and he knows it!
Matt on the Chase for the Nextel Cup: "It's pretty neat. The fans like it a lot. But it sure is different than it used to be. Now, the 11th-place driver doesn't even have a chance. That guy could end the season better than someone else, but now he doesn't get a chance to move up."
"We go to Quiznos or out for ice cream. He takes me to Best Buy. You know, normal stuff, " says Matt Martin, Mark Martin's son. When this interview took place, Matt was doing very normal stuff. He was hanging out at the mall with his friends. Of course, most teenage boys don't conduct phone interviews late in the afternoon. When I asked him if his friends were making fun of him he said, "Nah. We were in the Discovery Channel store. Now I'm walking behind them." Matt Martin has been walking, and driving, around race tracks his whole life. In fact, he's a racer himself. (Notice all of the corporate names he's been able to drop in this conversation!) He's currently racing against men two and three times his age in the pro truck and fast truck series. He recently finished third at his home track in New Smyrna, Florida. That environment, constantly competing against adults, could explain Matt's maturity. But so could his upbringing. Mark and his wife, Arlene, have kept Matt pretty grounded in a world that revolves around speed. "If I'm at the (Nextel Cup) race track, I'll go to the drivers' meeting and to chapel," Matt said. "Then I'll go to (my father's) car, talk to him and say good luck. Then it's back to the motor home. There, I'll usually eat some food. Maybe watch cartoons in between the race. I'm around it (racing) a lot. I like to race, but I don't really watch it on TV. It's hard to explain." What isn't hard to explain is what a championship would mean to his father. "I think he really deserves it," Matt said. "He tries and works his butt off. He deserves at least one."
Speed Mail Krista Voda
Martin has been so close, so often, finishing second in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002. When the now 46-year old driver announced that he would retire from full-time Cup racing at the end of this season, he immediately became the overwhelming choice for driver-you'd-most-like-to-see-win-the-championship. Despite the fact that Martin will continue to race next season — Jack Roush asked him to come back for one more year. Out of loyalty, Mark said yes. — his title of sentimental favorite hasn't waned. Whether it's a picture in a scrapbook in Mars, Pa. or a personalized autograph hanging in a bedroom in Fulton, Ill., countless people across this country worship Mark Martin. One of those just happens to be a young kid who shares his last name. "It makes me real happy and proud that people think he's a nice person and someone who's fair to people," Matt said. "I hope when I get older, I act like him." Sounds like Matt has a hero too.

More Behind the Chase columns: Ray Evernham, Katie Kenseth, Krissie Newman, Bob Osborne

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