Leandra Martin had her doubters, starting with her father and grandfather. They remember telling Martin she could try a race car out, but figured it was likely just a phase that would pass in short time.
After her third top-three finish in the Thunder 4 division at Wiscasset Speedway last weekend, no one is doubting the 19-year-old Richmond native anymore.
“I’m going to be the first to admit that I am totally flabbergasted she can make it go as fast she can,” said Leandra’s grandfather, Gary Nash, 68 of Richmond. “I mean flabbergasted.”
Martin is a 2012 Richmond High School graduate. Most remember her as a dominant pitcher who led the softball team to three consecutive Western D championships.
Now, the only circle she hopes to dominate is one that’s paved.
“I did figure it would be something fun to try and do,” said Martin, who commutes from her Richmond home to Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield. “I was pretty nervous the first few times out there, but there are no more nerves now. It’s fun. I like to go fast and pass people.”
Added her father, Tony Martin: “Personally, I never thought she had it in her. It is a lot different than watching her play softball. It’s different watching her go around the pavement than on a softball field.”
Martin’s family has a long history in racing, which helped acquiant her to the sport. Her uncle, Casey Nash, drove a Late Model and other cars for decades at Wiscasset and Unity. Her two cousins — Nathan and Cody Tribbet — race at Wiscasset as well.
Then there’s Gary Nash, who is chiefly responsible (or to blame, depending on who you ask) for getting Martin behind the wheel of a race car.
“She would always follow us along to the races,” he said. “She was pretty involved. Then, at the end of last season we asked her if she would like to get in a car. I asked if she wanted to do a practice lap and she did. She said, ‘Oh, sure.’ She surprised me a little, but we put her in a seat.”
The test drive came at Unity Raceway and was an otherwise forgettable experience.
“It didn’t go very well,” Martin said. “I had never done anything like it before but I tried it. I put all my stuff on and it was an open practice so there were all sorts of cars out there. I had some ear phones in and I thought I heard my grandfather say ‘Stay up’ but we telling me to stay down. So I went to the pits and there were all these cars flying right by me.”
The harrowing experience did little to deter Martin from driving again. Over the winter, the family put together a third car — one that was purchased to be used as a spare for cousins.
“We asked her that if she wanted to do it to let us know,” said Nash, who is piecing together his Late Model for a return to Wiscasset. “She showed some interest so we fixed it up. We figured she’d go out and race a few times and she’d say that it was fun but then she’d be all done with it. Oh no. She’s taken hold of it. She’s been a big surprise and she’s done quite well.”
Martin made her racing debut April 6 at Wiscasset. She finished third in the Thunder 4 feature, earning her a podium finish and a trophy. After a fifth-place finish, Martin finished second on consecutive weeks.
She practices once a week at Wiscasset and is also involved with prepping the car.
“It took a couple of races but I feel a lot comfortable,” Martin said. “Our big goal was to get a trophy this year but we got that in my first race. Now my big goal is to come in first.”
And that, the family says, is now a matter of when and not if.
“It’s easier to watch her now that she is more comfortable,” Tony Martin said. “She’s getting smoother around the corners. It’s like when she’s on pitching mound, she’s going 100 mph.”
Added Gary Nash: “She’s adapted really well. She has a fast car ad she can make it go. She’s done a real good job and I can’t wipe the grin off my face with proud I am of her. The kid can drive.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640