Ihad never been to a luncheon in a private jet hangar, so I was already in awe as I walked into the large room and found an empty seat.

On the walls hung racing uniforms, quarter-midget race cars, trophies and other memorabilia.

It was a casual gathering, but it was far from cheap. Imagine an elegant chicken barbecue, if you can. I had just started on dessert when my host sat next to me.

"Hi," Mark Martin said. "I hope you don't mind that I join you. And thanks for coming."

It was sunny in Daytona Beach, Fla., on that February day in 2007. I was in town to cover the Daytona 500 when the invitation came through a friend, a longtime motorsports writer for a national publication. He told me that Martin was hosting a get-together for a few reporters at his home and I was welcome to join them.

Although I had seen Martin at many of the races I covered, we had never been introduced. Now I was sitting in his jet hanger sharing dessert with him. Frankly, I was a bit floored. I was used to seeing NASCAR Sprint Cup series drivers in their natural habitat at various tracks around the country, but I had never been to any of their homes -- or hangars.

I chatted briefly with Martin, who introduced me to his wife, Arlene, and teenaged son, Matt. When told of my Pennsylvania roots, he replied that Matt was a Civil War buff and planned a trip to Gettysburg. He also proudly told me that the uniforms, the race cars, and the trophies all were Matt's.


Isaw Mark Martin later that week. It was Sunday and the 2007 Daytona 500 was over as Martin sat dejectedly in the media center, the runner-up in "The Great American Race."

It was a familiar position to him, coming in second. He had finished in second place for the Sprint Cup championship no less than four times, in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002. But that didn't make the loss sting any less.

Now Mark Martin is working on landing in first place once again. He's having a tremendous year with a series-best four victories so far, including last week at Chicagoland Speedway. With the bonus points system in place for the Chase for the Championship, Martin would begin the Chase as the leader.

But in order to win the Chase, one must get in it; and unfortunately for Martin, although he's currently in the 11th spot, he's only 11 points ahead of Greg Biffle, in 13th.

But don't fret, Martin fans. Mark Martin will not only make the Chase, he will be a threat to win it. In a year in which rookie Joey Logano is grabbing headlines for his youth, Martin, at the age of 50, is showing why experience is golden.

Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at esis ka@yorkdispatch.com.