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Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/20/2006 01:58:00 PM

My Sportsman: Mark Martin

Mark Martin
At age 47, this is likely NASCAR driver Mark Martin's last season competing fulltime.
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR

By Lars Anderson

There he is, my Sportsman of the Year, walking slowly down pit road at Phoenix International Raceway. He's shuffling along with a limp, the result of too many high-speed crashes into the wall. His face is weathered and lined, like he's been out in the sun far too long. He stands 5-foot-6 and weighs 135 pounds. He's been spinning circles on the NASCAR circuit since Ronald Reagan's first term, and he's been with the same owner, Jack Roush, every click of the odometer -- a rarity in motor sports.

Four times he's been oh-so-close to the Nextel Cup title, and four times he's finished second in the final standings. He had hoped that this season -- likely his last in the Cup while competing fulltime -- would finally be the one where he won the championship, but it didn't work out. It just never did for Mark Martin.

So why is 47-year-old Martin, who didn't even win a race this season, my Sportsman of Year? Simple: In 2006, he became the embodiment of the right way to race in NASCAR. Long regarded as the cleanest, fairest, most honest driver in the garage, Martin was an example that young drivers like Kyle Busch tried to emulate.

"Mark Martin is the one guy that you know will always treat you fairly on the race track," Busch told me earlier this year. "He's the standard I look to. If I do something on the track that makes someone mad, I'll ask myself, 'Would Mark Martin have done that?' If the answer is 'No,' then I know I've done something wrong."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart -- all the biggest names in the sport -- have echoed Busch's sentiments about Martin over the last six months. It's almost as if Martin has become the voice of racing reason that now lives inside the heads of all the top drivers. I have to be patient here, the voice will say in the heat of the moment at 180 miles per hour. I can't cause a wreck by being aggressive. I have to be smart. I have to be like Mark Martin.

Yes, Martin is an old-school racer, one who learned the virtue of patience while paying his dues on backwater circuits before making it to the highest series in American motor sports. In this way, Martin's a dying breed in NASCAR, where the drivers are getting younger by the year.

Last year Martin and I talked at length about what he tries to teach the kids he races against each weekend. Sitting in his motorcoach at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Martin leaned forward on his couch and his eyes blazed with intensity.

"I tell them that racing is really, really simple when you use your head," he said. "Man, you just gotta think out there. If you control your emotions, only then can you control your race car."

Are all you 16-year-olds out there who want to make it in NASCAR listening? You should, because no one in NASCAR this season earned as much respect in the garage as Martin, which is why he's my Sportsman of the Year.

posted by sidotcom | View comments |  


Posted: 1:41 PM   by Anonymous
I agree wholeheartedly. I've been a NASCAR fan for 9 years, and I've been a Mark Martin fan for about, oh, say, 8 1/2 years. The first time I heard the guy interviewed on a post-race show, I heard all of the positive characteristics that you wrote about here. He is a breath of fresh air on the entire sports scene, not just NASCAR.

Hooksett, NH
Posted: 2:22 PM   by Anonymous
I agree wholeheartedly with your selection for Sportsman of the Year. Mark Martin is a clean and loyal driver to which we all should emulate in life. Work hard, race clean. After Bill Elliott retired I chose Mark Martin to carry the torch and I thought he would get that elusive championship this year. Great job Mark, Hold your head high!!!

James Virginia
Accokeek MD
Posted: 3:56 PM   by Anonymous
I despise cliches and this one in particular but I don't know how else to put it: "look up the word class and there's a picture of Mark Martin". the guy NEVER loses his composure - remember the Charlotte hit and his interview after? his attitude/comments at Homestead were inspiring. the TOs and Sprewells of the world could learn a lot from #6...
Posted: 5:47 AM   by Barry Colip
I've been a Mark Martin fan since the mid 80's. If you ask ANY driver who they respect the most, they ALL would say "Mark Martin". A true gentleman on and off of the track. He is most deserving of the "Sportsman of the Year". Could the US Army have gotten a better spokesman to represent them for 07? I think not!

Greenfield, IN
I am with yall on Mark being the Sportsman of the Year. He is my hero, and the reason I watch NASCAR. I know of NO other driver that would deserve this honor better than Mark.
Love n Peace
Mitzi B.
Columbus, GA
Posted: 10:39 AM   by Anonymous
I agree that Mark Martin is the standard when it comes to racing with class, dignity and sportsmanship. Unfortunately, I think the nature of the beast is that you don't win the tough ones that way. I liken it to an honest politician...everyone wants an honest politician, but the honest ones aren't the most effective in the dirty business of politics. Good guys just don't finish first unless NASCAR starts penalizing more for stupidly aggressive driving.
Posted: 1:49 PM   by jr
I've been a Mark Martin fan since he joined Roush Racing in Liberty NC.He may not have won 7 championships but what he has given NASCAR is just as great of an accomplishment.Every sports figure should look up to Mark Martin. May his legacy last forever.
Posted: 8:05 PM   by David
I have been a Mark Martin fan my whole life. I grew up about 20 miles from his house and my grandparents used to take me to watch him race back home. I am truly sorry to see him go, but I wish him lots of luck in all he does.


Martin, TN
Posted: 5:24 PM   by Sam
One of the greatest Mark Martin articles I've read in my 19 years as a Mark Martin fan.

Thanks, Lars.
Posted: 3:03 PM   by Anonymous
If Mark Martin were truly retiring this year I would consider him for the award. But he will be racing in 30 or more races in 07. So even though he is a great racer and a better person, I do not think he should win the award this year.
Posted: 10:35 PM   by fd138
He is by far " THE GENTLEMAN OF NASCAR" Not only one of the greatist drivers of all-time, but a true gentleman. Many drivers on and off the track can take lessons from him.
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