Mark Martin was sitting in his Daytona Beach, Fla., office three years ago surrounded by reporters and talking about what he thought was going to be his retirement from NASCAR’s top series at the end of that season.
Suddenly, Martin paused and pointed across the room at a diminutive 14-year-old standing alongside his dad.
“That’s the future of this sport,” Martin said. “If you didn’t have to be 18 to drive in NASCAR, I’d put him in a car right now.”
The boy he had pointed at was Joey Logano.
Since that day in Daytona Beach, Logano has gone about the business of learning the racing trade, with successful stints in the ASA National Touring Series, the USAR Hooters Pro Cup series and, this year, NASCAR’s West and Busch East series.
He has won races in each of them, winning this season’s West opener – his first race in a Grand National car – and adding six victories in Busch East on the way to the series title. Logano then added a win in the Toyota All Star Showdown against some of the top short track drivers in the country.
Jack Roush had Logano under contract for a while, at Martin’s insistence. But he let him get away and now the youngster is part of Joe Gibbs Racing, which plans to run him in the Nationwide Series next season – as soon as he is eligible.
“Joey turns 18 on May 24 and we’ll be running him the next week, May 31, at Dover,” Gibbs vice president Jimmy Makar said.
“We’re going to try to run a full schedule with him after that point, although that depends on sponsors for his team.
“Unfortunately, they have that 18-year-old limit or we’d start him at Daytona right away.”
Martin first saw Logano race as a 12-year-old against his son, Matt. The elder Martin quickly became the youngster’s mentor and put him in a Cup car for a test at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Logano drove one of Martin’s 2004 Roush Racing Fords around the 1.5-mile Atlanta oval at speeds above 190 mph.
“That just made me want to race the car,” Logano said, grinning.
Makar said Gibbs is just happy to have a talent like Logano in its driver development program.
“We’ve been working with Joey for about two years now,” he said. “We put him in our Cup cars on our research-and-development team and I was very impressed, and so was the rest of the team, about how fast he adapted to the speeds that the Cup cars run at places like Kentucky and Nashville and Kansas and Michigan.
“We took him to these big, fast race tracks and, usually, that’s a hard thing for drivers to learn about, the speed at these places. But every time we went, usually within about five, six or seven laps, he was up to speed and running the right line. It was very, very impressive to us to see how quickly he could adapt at those places.”
Makar said another impressive thing about the youngster from Middletown, Conn., is his communication skills.
“He was very good at coming back to the crew chiefs and engineers and describing what the car was doing in a very methodical way,” he said.
“A lot of drivers have a hard time breaking the track down into segments and telling the crews what they need ... very much the kind of thing you’d expect out of a veteran race car driver. You had to keep remind yourself that you’re watching a 15- or 16-year-old kid doing these things.”
Other people have been impressed by Logano, as well.
He has already been interviewed on national TV during a race broadcast and, more impressive, he is the first driver not in one of NASCAR’s top three series to have a licensing deal.
Motorsports Authentics has signed an agreement with Logano and will produce a 1:24 scale replica of his championship-winning Busch East Chevrolet.
Logano is happy – if somewhat bewildered – about all the attention.
“I played with little die-cast cars when I was little, and now I have my own,” he said, shaking his head. “This is what I’ve done my whole life. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a little guy.”
He said Martin has played a huge role in getting him to this point.
“His interest was probably the most important thing in my career,” Logano noted. “It takes winning races, and you’ve also got to get your name out there, and Mark’s helped me out a ton with that.
“It took us by surprise when he just came out and said what he said. Now you’ve really got to live up to it.
“It’s a dream for so many kids and even older people who want to drive race cars for a living,” Logano added. “It’s not a job because you’re driving race cars all day. It don’t get much better than that.”