Many racetracks offer food that would be the envy of any state fair, like the Italian sausage at the Bristol Motor Speedway.
Photo by Don Coble
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- The chili dogs at the Martinsville Speedway makes Shirley Foster cry.
Foster, one of four women responsible for chopping 1,500 pounds of fresh onions for the most-famous food item in racing, says reconstituted or frozen onions are forbidden. It's that labor of love, she said, that makes her chili dogs so special.
"Fans seem to like the fresh onions," she said. "They are better. I've eaten hot dogs where they used frozen onions and they aren't quite as good. It's just one of the things that makes our chili dogs so good."
Part of Martinsville's lore is Dale Earnhardt's love of chili dogs. He supposedly ate a couple chili dogs before qualifying because it gave him "extra octane." Since he never won a pole at Martinsville, there must have been a more-satisfying reason why he ate so many.
It takes Foster and friends two days to chop three-quarter tons of onions for a race weekend
"We've had people waiting in line at 8 in the morning for a hot dog," said Mike Smith, a spokesman at Martinsville. "The earliest I've ever eaten one is one minute after 8. It's funny, most people don't realize we also sell hamburgers and barbecue. People come to Martinsville for our chili dogs."
Martinsville forever will be known for its chili dogs, much like Buffalo and its wings, Philadelphia and its cheese-steaks and Boston and its beans. Other tracks on the Nextel Cup Series are trying to create a reputation with their own signature dish.
One of the most-popular concession items at the Texas Motor Speedway isn't brisket. It's roast pork nachos, complete with cheese, pico de gallo and sour cream.
Las Vegas sells lobsters; Atlanta and the Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C., offer giant turkey legs. And the Kansas Speedway sells chicken spiedini, a ball of chicken meat and cheese served in olive oil.
Turkey legs at the track in Atlanta.
Photo by Don Coble
And while the South Boston Speedway is no longer on the Busch Series circuit, the popular short track remains famous for selling bologna burgers. They take a thick slice of bologna, cook it in butter and onions, then slap it between a bun. Rumor has it Elliott Sadler once ate more than 10 in one night. His record for chili dogs is eight, Smith said.
Speedways, however, still feel it's easier to stick with a tradition bill of fare.
"You try other things to see if they work, but it usually comes back to hot dogs and hamburgers," said Ed Clark, president at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. "I remember we tried fruit cups when I was at Charlotte one year and we couldn't give them away."
The Lowe's Motor Speedway has created a state fair-like atmosphere in its concession areas. Vendors sell everything from Italian sausage and onions, to fried dough, fried chicken, biscuits and pecans.
Martinsville, meanwhile, will sell 90,000 hot dogs this weekend.
Foster said the women always cry when they start the onion-chopping process. But the tears usually stop after about 20 minutes.
Bill France, the founder of NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation, was so impressed with the Martinsville chili dog, he had them shipped to the old beach course in Daytona Beach.
And today, Martinsville is one of the few places most teams won't prepare pre-race meals because everyone will be in line for hot dogs. More than 1,000 chili dogs will be sold in the garage area alone.
Which will bring more tears to Shirley Foster's eyes.
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