Lefor’s Martin retires after 30 yearsAuto racing has shaped the past three decades of Fran Martin’s life.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
Auto racing has shaped the past three decades of Fran Martin’s life.
Whether it’s weekends at the race track, nights fiddling with his cars, or days selling motor oil to competitive racers throughout southwest North Dakota, Martin’s life has been dedicated to the sport.
Now, he says, it’s time for a change.
On Saturday night Martin finished his 30th year of racing with a fifth-place finish in the Southwest Speedway’s IMCA Modifieds feature. In that race, the 54-year-old Lefor driver made what he expects to be his final turn around the dirt track.
Martin has announced his retirement from racing.
“I wanted to still be competitive, not one of those guys who hang on and hang on — guys like Brett Favre,” Martin said with a laugh. “In the end, they actually lose it and they’re remembered for the way they end it. I don’t want it to be like that for me. I still want to be competitive when I walk away from it.”
Martin proved he was still a winner on July 23 at the Southwest Speedway when he survived a barrage of cautions and a hard-charging pack behind him to win the feature in the second-to-last Modifieds race of the season.
“That was kind of like icing on the cake,” Martin said, adding it had been a few years since he last won a feature. “It was a great feeling. It was a fun night. All the stars were lined up that night for us.”
Martin ends his career, which began in 1981 with a Super Stock car, with five track championships.
In addition to Super Stocks, Martin also drove a Street Stock for a short time before switching to Modifieds in 1987.
“To see him not be there, that’s going to be unusual,” said Jeff Decker, a veteran Modified driver from Dickinson. “It’s going to be different not seeing that (number) 25 car out there.”
During an interview for a story during the 2007 season, when he was still driving with a No. 6 on his car, Martin told The Dickinson Press that fans would know when he was ready to retire when he switched from No. 6 to No. 25.
He made the move last season.
“You’ll know when you see the No. 25 on my door,” Martin said in the June 9, 2007, article.
Four years later, that time has come.
Martin not only leaves the legacy of a champion, but he is also regarded as one of the most sportsmanlike drivers in the area.
“That’s not very newsworthy, but those are the things that matter to me,” said Marlyn Seidler, a veteran Modified driver from Underwood and this season’s track champion.
“That’s one of the things that we’ll take with us from this sport when we do leave. I would call him a gentlemen, absolutely. Sometimes that’s rare in this sport.”
Martin said he has always taken pride in conducting himself with a level of professionalism when racing.
Though Martin admitted he could get as testy as any other driver, he said winning a clean race is a much better feeling.
“In racing, things happen. There’s a lot of adrenaline out there,” Martin said. “But there’s nothing more fun than going wide open with somebody like Darrell Bauer, door to door in the feature, racing like that and never touching each other. Fans love that.”
Martin said he realized last Sunday what life as a regular race fan will be like when the Modified drivers took the night off in favor of a Late Model tour.
“It was really uneasy,” he said.
While taking his hands off the wheel may be difficult, it’s not like Martin is leaving the sport entirely.
He still plans to sell his oil products to racers, work with younger drivers and attend as many race nights as he can.
“I’m not going to totally walk away from it,” Martin said. “But I know I’m going to have to stay away from it for a while, just to get over it.”