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By Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

A new museum built in honor of racing star Mark Martin has officially opened its doors in the driver's hometown of Batesville, offering fans a glimpse into the one of the most successful careers in NASCAR history. The racer is considered a legend in the realm of motor sports, accumulating accolades such as harnessing five International Race of Champions titles in one year and holding title to a record-setting 47 Busch Series victories. He is also listed as one of "The 50 Greatest NASCAR Drivers of All Time."

"We really wanted to do something that we could share with the fans and the people of Batesville," said Martin via Roush Racing's Web site. "It's been a long road and a lot of fun and we really wanted to put all of that on display."

Construction on the museum, which is known as the Mark Martin Museum, started over a year ago and is in the same building as a new Ford dealership which also opened on February 27th.

Inside, visitors are greeted with the sight of several of Martin's past cars, including the No. 60 Winn-Dixie Busch car, Martin's 2005 IROC vehicle, which he used to win his record fifth championship, and the No 6 Viagra Coca-Cola 600. Each automobile is a part of a display that includes hi-tech television monitors which tell the story of their racing history.

Along with cars, there are a variety of other racing mementos on site, including around 100 trophies and several of Martin's racing helmets and fire suits, which are encased in glass and line the walls of the museum. The fire suits put the sport in perspective, drawing attention to the fact that racers compete in a car that reaches speeds near 200 miles per hour with temperatures in the vehicle which can approach well over 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Many photos and newspaper articles are also present, which document Martin's climb to NASCAR success.

"We could have put the museum anywhere," added Martin. "But I wanted to bring all of it home. It means a lot to me and I'm excited to share what I've been lucky enough to experience with everyone."

NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, is the largest sanctioning body of motor sports in the nation. The three largest racing series under its umbrella are the NEXTEL Cup Series, whose season opens with the Daytona 500, also known as "The Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing," the Busch Series, and the Craftsman Truck Series.

Hardcore NASCAR fans will notice that racing trophies Martin won driving against solid racers such as Bobby Allison and Rusty Wallace in the American Speed Association are missing from the collection. The only reminder of that part of his career, which included three consecutive titles from 1977-80, is a small stopwatch engraved with the words 1977 ASA Rookie of the Year. Everything else went into the dumpster during one of the seven moves he has made.

Visitors will be glad to find out that racing mementos from the rest of Martin's career were spared a similar fate. They will be able to see trophies he won from his five International Race of Champion titles, as well as his record-setting 47 Busch Series victories. Also saved was a handwritten letter from Martin's late father and a letter of congratulations from former President Bill Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas.

These days, Martin, who is building a home in Batesville, resides in Daytona, Fla. with his wife and has five children, including a son, Matt, who is also a race car driver. Pre-museum, he kept in touch with his roots by running his father's business, the trucking company J-Mar Express, which is headquartered in Searcy and transports commodities coast to coast.

As for his racing statistics, as of the end of last year, in 25 years on the circuit Martin had run to 35 Nextel Cup victories, 41 poles, 356 top-10 finishes and 224 top fives. Martin, 47, began his career in the early 1970s in a car built by his father. He began stock car racing at the age of 15 on local Arkansas dirt tracks. He moved up to the V-8 division in 1976 and began racing on asphalt later that same year.

Success continued and in 1977, Martin was named the ASA Rookie of the Year. He then went on to win three consecutive championships. Martin ran five NASCAR Winston Cup races in 1981, laying the groundwork for a full season the following year. By 1987, he returned to the NASCAR ranks when he drove a full season Busch Grand National schedule. It was a victory at Dover, Del. that year that sparked the attention of Jack Roush, a road racing specialist who started his own NASCAR Nextel Cup team the following year. Martin was the first driver for the Roush Racing team. Since then, he has been a fixture on a team that has become one of the most successful partnerships in NASCAR.

In 1989, he won his first NASCAR Winston cup at the North Carolina Motor Speedway. He is one of only six drivers to win four races in a row, at Watkins Glen International, Michigan International Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, and Dover International Speedway. In 1997, he broke the all-time Busch Series record to win the race.

Martin, who has written a book about his life, Driven to Race, as well as co-written a book about the sport, NASCAR for Dummies, announced in 2004 that the next season would be his final in the circuit's premier series. In an effort to spend more time with his family, he planned to step back but stay involved in the sport by racing the Craftsman Truck Series. But course of plans changed after he failed to get the replacement driver he wanted to take control over the No. 6 Ford so he stayed for another season. This time around, his schedule calls for racing 56 races in four different divisions. This will be his last full season as a Cup driver and he will race under a new sponsor via the #6 AAA Ford Fusion.

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