When Mark Martin left NASCAR racing at the end of the 2013 season, there was never a doubt in his mind whether he would continue to be involved in motorsports in some capacity.
“I love it too much to completely walk away from it,” said Martin.
Martin returned home to Batesville, Ark., and went back to work with longtime friend Lance Landers.
The two share a deep passion for grassroots racing, which formed the foundation for the super team they’ve created for 2015 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Jonathan Davenport behind the wheel.
“There’s been so much excitement surrounding the late model program ever since we unveiled it,” said Martin. “It’s really been amazing the swell of support that has come out of it.”
Martin, who has an ownership stake in five Arkansas car dealerships and also boasts Mark Martin Powersports in his hometown, isn’t a true co-owner of Lance Landers Racing, but that doesn’t mean he’s not involved.
“Lance is my business partner in the car dealerships and my powersports store, and we have a race shop that we share down there as well,” Martin noted. “He’s run a couple of racing organizations out of that space in the past and his youngest son, Gavin (21 years old), races late models out of that shop as well, albeit a little more locally.
“Jonathan is the big dog, though. He’s been one of the best that the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series has seen for the last several years and he’s continued to prove that so far this year with the points lead he’s built up already. Lance owns the team … I just happen through the shop every once in a while.
“If you want to get real technical, my official involvement and title is ‘Lead Cheerleader for Jonathan Davenport.’”
Martin felt the same anticipation as the rest of the dirt late model world when Davenport’s deal to join the Landers team was announced during last fall’s World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.
“We knew from the beginning that this deal was going to be pretty huge, and so far, it has been,” Martin said. “Racing’s just fun, man. That’s what this deal has been about so far. It’s fun to win and it’s really fun to be involved as a cheerleader for Jonathan and to go to some of the races. Like I said, I’m not involved in an ownership role — just once in a while I’ll give them advice or tell them what I think.”
That’s exactly where Landers values Martin’s input.
“Lance is a 50-50 partner with me on the business side, but he does 100 percent of the work because he’s a second-generation car guy and he really gets that side of things,” explained Martin. “He has a lot of knowledge about the business, so I stand behind him and listen to what he says.
“When it comes to the racing business, Lance feels like I’m a superior to him in knowledge and experience. He asks and confides in me a lot when it comes to his racing program. He and I are best friends … probably the best friend I’ve got and we’re together a good bit, working on things and helping the team to progress.”
The argument could be made that the threshold for progression is already short, seeing as how Davenport won his first race in Landers’ car in just their fourth start as a team.
The breakthrough victory came Feb. 6 at Florida’s East Bay Raceway Park, a precursor to an early season run that put Davenport atop the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series standings by 240 points as of May 17.
While some might have seen such a quick ascension as a surprise, Davenport knew it was a possibility.
“I’ve known Lance going back all the way to when I drove for Barry (Wright, former car owner) the first time,” said Davenport. “I think I met him in 2010 when we went to Batesville (Motor Speedway). Then, when Jared (Landers) and I were teammates (at Clint Bowyer Racing) in 2012, I got to know Lance even more through Jared and we just really hit it off quickly. We’ve been good friends ever since then.
“When you have that kind of a familiarity with someone, there’s always hope that things will click and go well, and they have so far,” Davenport added. “Add to that the support that Crop Production Services has given the team, along with Mark’s guidance … when he can give it, and you’ve got a heck of a team. This group has been something pretty special so far.”