Consider, for a moment, a bunch of tuned Mazda MX-5 Cup race cars taking a couple of days to run hot laps around the historic oval. Yes… That is exactly what they did.
Racing history is combined as cars commonly running on the twisted track of VIR take laps around Martinsville. This merges names like Carroll Shelby and Paul Newman with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
Speaking of, by the way… Dale Earnhardt, Jr and Bobby Labonte were on hand from NASCAR history to lend a lap or two in the Mazda Motorsport testing. Speedway President Clay Campbell also climbed in and put his driving to the test with the Mazda crew.
MX-5 Cup series drivers were on hand for Monday to dial the cars in. Campbell and the NASCAR guys came in Tuesday to throw their Martinsville racing experience behind the wheel.
The stage is early but all of this opened the door for the possibility of the MX-5 Cup series actually racing at Martinsville Speedway. Logistics are many but the test made a mark on all involved.
Dale Jr referenced the advancement of iRacing and how that virtual platform raises the bar. He said you can put any car on any track and the technology is such that the simulation is eye-opening. The difference on track from a NASCAR Cup car or Late Model is in the turns, he referenced. The Mazda is as fast in the turns but the entry and exit is different on the shifting. The Cup cars have the straights but these are close in the corners.
We’ve seen Bobby Labonte in the SMART Mods and SRX this year and now in Mazdas at Martinsville. He was just straight up having fun in the MX-5 dropping the power of SRX or a Modified for the low ride and easy handling convertible. His experience in multiple series aided his input on the testing.
Clay Campbell noted the speed of the Mazda through the turn. These are lighter so the brakes don’t play the major role like they do in a Cup or Late Model car. He said you stand on the brakes in those Cup cars and these it’s more in the downshift and easy entry in the turns. The low driving position also puts your perspective of the speed right on the edge.
The series drivers on their way to VIR this weekend said the tuning was not as much as they thought for the oval. There will be some camber and steering adjustments to get them back to turning right as easy as left but the mechanics of the MX-5 are the same.
Who knows for sure when, or if, the MX-5 Cup will race at Martinsville. This testing, however, showed that if they do it is going to be a fun watch. The size of the car would allow for some lanes of racing that larger, more powerful cars can not run in a race setting. The sound of these and the quick handling nature could be a race fan experience for sure.
*There were, unfortunately, no famous hot dogs available for the Mazda MX-5 crews to test.
**Ross Chastain was either unavailable or not invited to this test.
PHOTOS from Mazda MX-5 Cup testing at Martinsville Speedway (August 21-22/2023)