Martinsville Speedway Hits The Movie Screen In 1973
Filming of Martinsville Speedway races began in the 1960’s, but it was 1973 when the track first gained notoriety on the big screen.
Hollywood came to the track in 1973, filming the climactic race of a movie called "The Last American Hero." It has since been titled "Hard Charger" was based on the life of Junior Johnson.
It starred a 22-year-old Jeff Bridges, Valerie Perrine, Ned Beaty and Gary Busey. A 20th Century Fox production, it is perhaps the best movie ever made about stock car racing.
Bridges "drove" Junior Johnson’s "Coke Machine" Chevrolet, that was piloted by Bobby Allison, in the movie and those who view it can see some great early Martinsville racing since actual footage was used.
H. Clay Earles was called down to the track to take part in the "Victory Lane" ceremonies. He ad-libbed his lines, presenting the trophy to "Junior Jackson," and congratulated him and his car owner.
The scene was shot in only one take. "I was a little nervous but heck, I’ve been doing the same thing for years so it wasn’t too hard," Earles laughed.
He chuckled when he had to join the Screen Actor’s Guild but still delights in receiving small checks every time the film is shown on television.
Television first came to Martinsville Speedway in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when the late Bud Lindemann filmed many of the track’s races for his syndicated television show "Car and Track," but network TV first came to the speedway in the 1978 Dogwood 500, which was taped by NBC for showing on its "SportsWorld" series. It was the first race televised nationally from Virginia.
SETN syndicated races from the speedway for the first live telecast form the track was the 1988 Goody’s 500 and was shown on ESPN, which still telecasts the Winston Cup weekend events from the track.
"Television brought another new dimension to the speedway and showed people all over the country what we have to offer," Earles said. There’s no doubt it attracts new fans."