MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Martinsville Speedway track president Clay Campbell remembers the tipping point well. Watching from outside Turn 4 as Jeff Gordon led the final laps of last November's rain-delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series playoff race practically by candlelight, Campbell knew big changes were needed.
"It looked like a rock concert with people taking pictures with their phones and the (auxiliary) lights in the grandstand," Campbell said. "I knew then that being in the Chase, such a critical point in the season, and thinking what would've happened if we hadn't finished that race? We don't want to be in that position, so there's our reason."
With that eventful race as a fulcrum, Martinsville Speedway announced Wednesday that it will have an LED lighting system in place for its NASCAR weekends next year. Campbell made the announcement Wednesday as part of an early kickoff to the historic short track's 70th anniversary season in 2017.
Campbell said that the track did not currently have plans in place for nighttime races, with its premier series dates in 2017 already locked in to start at 2 p.m. ET (in April) and 1 p.m. ET (October). But Campbell indicated that the $5 million initiative -- which he described an "insurance policy" against late-afternoon finishes in diminished sunlight -- should provide flexibility in case of inclement weather.
"It's a race that all the drivers really want to win because of the uniqueness of the track and the history of the trophy as well, so adding lights can only add to its legacy and the special-ness that this place has held for so long," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., part of the delegation helping to make the announcement at the .526-mile track. "I'm really happy for the track. Believe that it'll, like I say, open up a lot of possibilities for the future.
"The fans can come knowing that if we are pushed back early in the day, there's still a great opportunity if we get good weather throughout the remainder of the day, we've got time to get the race in and can run late and you won't have an issue. … I think it's awesome and a long time coming."
The announcement means that 16 of the 23 tracks that host NASCAR premier series events in 2017 will have lights in place.
Campbell said that the choice of LED lights over conventional halogen lighting is an example of "doing so much more with less," providing better illumination with less power. The track indicated that the project will use an estimated 750 lights mounted from both inside and outside the track.
With a project of this magnitude, Campbell said, one of the largest challenges has been keeping the details under wraps for so long.
"It's been hard because we've been working on it for months," Campbell said. "As we got closer and closer, it's tough because it's a huge deal with a lot of people involved in making this happen."