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NASCAR legend Mark Martin to run IWK 250 in July

NASCAR Hall of Fame member Mark Martin will be the next celebrity driver to try his hand at winning the IWK 250 at Riverside International Speedway in James River.
mark martin
Mark Martin, a member of NASCAR's Hall of Fame, will be the celebrity driver at this year's IWK 250 at Riverside International Speedway on July 15. (U.S. Army Racing via Wikipedia)

NASCAR Hall of Fame member Mark Martin will be the next celebrity driver to try his hand at winning the IWK 250 at Riverside International Speedway in James River.

The annual stock car race in support of the children's hospital in Halifax has attracted a NASCAR racer since its inception a decade ago. This year's race is scheduled for July 15.

For Martin, he'll strap into a race car for the first time since he retired from NASCAR in November 2013.

"I haven't had any real desire to until this opportunity came up," the 58-year-old Martin said in an interview Wednesday from his home in Batesville, Ark.

"First of all, my wife and I both are really at a point in our lives where we're giving back as much as we can and we are really interested in that. The first factor in this was the work that they do for the hospital. I think that's huge and having an opportunity to go to the hospital and meet some people is something that interested me."

It's word of mouth that got him here. Former NASCAR points champ Brad Keselowski, who ran the race in 2013, told him all about it.

"He was the best salesman that there could have ever been for this event," said Martin, who ran races in Ontario more than 30 years ago but has never been to Nova Scotia.

"He talked to me first and told me that if I didn't mind he'd pass my contact along to the guys because he wasn't able to do this event this year because of scheduling conflicts. He told me how great the fans were and how the competition and the track and the people were so first-class.

"I was well aware the area was beautiful and we haven't ever been there, so all those elements pushed me into coming to the decision that driving a race car would be something I wanted to do to be able to participate in all those other great things. The prospect of winning a race sounds really exciting to me after three years of it never occurring to me that I might ever win another race."

Like so many drivers, Martin will return to his roots in short-track, late-model racing.

"It will be fun. I haven't driven fast really one time since I got out of the race in 2013. And it never crossed my mind. So the more I think about climbing back in a race car, the more excited I get. It's truly in my comfort zone. A one-third mile, high-banked track in late models like I grew up on. All of it seems comfortable to me."

Martin raced for more than three decades and had 96 feature wins in NASCAR's three top series.

He is one of nine drivers who has started 800 or more races in NASCAR's premier division and one of only 27 drivers who has won races in each of NASCAR's three national series.

He is a two-time winner of the Southern 500 at Darlington, a two-time winner in the GEICO 500 at Talladega, a two-time winner in the NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte, a winner in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, and a winner in the Bud Shootout at Daytona.

Martin will drive a car out of the Nova Racing garage as a teammate to Antigonish's Donald Chisholm and New Glasgow's George Koszkulics.

Regan Smith became the only guest driver to win in 2008.

Aric Almirola, Marcos Ambrose, Matt Crafton, Ricky Craven, Keselowski, Joey Logano, and David Reutimann have also lined up for the race. Crafton made the trip north for the past three years.

"I put pressure on myself all my life because winning was what it was all about," Martin said. "It's engrained in my DNA. I don't care much for participating. I care about winning.

"From that standpoint, winning would be incredible, but I've also raced for 40 years and know how difficult it is. I don't have any expectations other than to go up there and race with laser focus to try to compete and get the best result I can. When I strap in, I'm not going to be thinking about having fun, it's going to be about winning the race."

The race has raised more than $400,000 for the IWK since its inception.


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