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Thursday, March 26, 2009
At Martinsville, a hot dog like no other


Strawberries and cream at Wimbledon? A mint julep at the Kentucky Derby?

Nay. That stuff is lame compared to NASCAR's most scrumptious snack.

You can't call yourself a true NASCAR fan until you have bravely downed a Martinsville Speedway hot dog.

The cholesterol-crammed delicacy is legendary at NASCAR's oldest track, a food tradition that has filled the stomachs of fans, drivers and crew members for more than 60 years.

"Yeah, I eat about three or four a day," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said this week when asked about how he dines on a Martinsville race weekend.

Even Mark Martin, a man who prides himself on his fitness and nutritional discipline, said a Martinsville dog has entered his piehole on occasion.

"I may eat one if I was really hungry," Martin said Tuesday. "When I'm starving, I don't discriminate. I'll eat anything. But I try not to let myself get in that situation.

"Oddly enough, I was never crazy about their hot dogs even back in the day when I ate not so good. I liked their barbecue, so I'd have their barbecue. I never thought much about their hot dogs, but I sure did like their barbecue."

Barbecue? This ain't Memphis. You have to have the dog. You know, when in Rome …

Even Tasmanian Marcos Ambrose doesn't throw another shrimp on the barbie when in Martinsville.

Former Cup crew chief Michael "Fatback" McSwain introduced Ambrose to the pride of the Virginia short track. It happened in 2006 when Ambrose made his NASCAR debut in a Truck race.

"That's the one memory I have of that race," Ambrose said. "Fatback made me eat my first Martinsville hot dog. I guess that was my initiation into NASCAR."

Tony Eury Jr., Earnhardt's crew chief, is somewhat of a connoisseur of the Martinsville dog. He's been eating them since he was a kid, going to the track with his dad.

"They messed the hot dogs up about two years ago," Eury said this week. "The old ladies that used to make them don't make them no more, and they changed the slaw.

"That's a big problem. I think even [former NASCAR chairman] Bill France Jr. tried to get it fixed back when he heard they changed the Martinsville hot dog."

It's still a dog like no other, packed with cheese, onions and chili on a bun that melts in your mouth. But it is a little scary for those whose arteries remain free and clear.

"I have not had one and I don't plan on having one," said 20-year-old Colin Braun, who competes in the Camping World Truck Series. "They don't look very appetizing."

Oh, he'll grow out of that.