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When DRO Editor Jeff Burk released the news of the declining health of Chris Martin, letters and e-mail messages arrived from concerned fans and friends within the drag racing community expressing their concern for this publication’s Emeritus Editor-At-Large. It is DRO’s sad duty to report the suppression of the voice belonging to one of the sport’s most exuberant supporters.
Although he was never concerned with his legacy, Chris Martin was considered by many to be one of drag racing’s greatest historians and statisticians. Best known for his 23-year tenure with the National Hot Rod Association and its weekly National Dragster publication, Martin quickly gained notoriety within the straight-line industry as an enthusiastic fan of all aspects of the sport. His race reports included an amazing amount of data gleaned from personal interviews with drivers and crew chiefs while sprinkled with the details, circumstances and synopses needed to accurately and completely illustrate each written account. Each was delivered with the frenetic and fervent tone associated with a phone call from a friend who had just witnessed history’s greatest race.
In fact, Chris Martin simply loved drag racing and developed the rare ability to convey his passion via the printed word. By his own admission, Martin became “hooked on a sport that an act-up, bookish, left-wing, atheistic nut had no business liking” when, as an ungainly sixteen-year-old, he stowed away in the trunk of friend Ray Akerly’s 1957 Oldsmobile to gain free access to California’s San Fernando Raceway on Sunday, June 23, 1963.
After witnessing the track’s first 190-mph run by Kenny Safford in the Safford-Ratican-Gaide Fuel Dragster, Martin seldom missed an event at any of the legendary SoCal tracks that became his weekend homes. Whether at Lions, San Gabriel, Irwindale, or Orange County, Martin was in the grandstands with a notepad entering every speed and elapsed time from every run by every car. His writing technique was developed while attempting to put into words his elation at simply being a witness to the action.
Martin’s notorious notes and ability to memorize the information contained within led to the opportunity of a lifetime with the NHRA. During his career at National Dragster, he became the publication’s official historian while creating a style that favored the underdog but credited those who performed. Martin‘s ability to spot natural talent led to a reputation of authority with racers as well as readers. Martin followed closely, not only the professional categories, but thousands of sportsman competitors with whom he developed the same trusting relationships.
However, Chris Martin didn’t disappear into the realm of drag racing. He enjoyed every aspect of the life he and those within the sport pursued. Martin’s introduction to the sport coincided with a period in his young life when he released himself from all emotional and philosophical restrictions and decided, in no uncertain terms, to experience every bit of life to the most radical extent.
In fact, his relationship with the NHRA was a love-hate affair in which Chris struggled to come to grips with the very fact that he worked for a large corporation. His disdain for structure of any kind was tempered only by the fact that he held his dream job. Even with NHRA founder Wally Parks, Martin was torn between the roles of a disgruntled employee for a major enterprise, and a son who acknowledged (and even embraced) his father’s position of reverence and pride. Near the end of the century, Martin finally broke with the company that he realized had far outgrown the modesty he originally enjoyed.
He left California and moved to Missouri to be in on the start-up of Drag Racing Online with owner Jeff Burk, and learned more of the Midwest history of drag racing.