- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Mark Martin is one of NASCAR’s legendary names.

He has done virtually everything in the sport and won at all levels, while competing alongside and against fellow legends with the names Earnhardt, Petty, Allison, Waltrip and Jarrett.

When the Batesville, Arkansas, native was inducted into the Ozarks Area Racers Foundation Hall of Fame on Jan. 7, he had a local name that is on his mind.

The late Larry Phillips was instrumental in giving Martin his start in the sport and molding him into a champion, according to The Baxter Bulletin (https://bit.ly/2jzZcjp ).

” ‘The Master,’ ” Martin said of Phillips. “Just learning from him. If you wanted to win a race, you had to figure out how to beat Larry Phillips and that was a tall order. It was a good training ground.”

After graduating from high school, Martin moved to Springfield for the summer and went to work at Phillips’ race shop. It’s when Martin, fellow star-in-the-making Rusty Wallace and Phillips went against each other in some epic battles on the Fairgrounds track in the late 1970s.

“So I was working for (Phillips) during the week and racing against him on weekends,” Martin said. “I worked for him in his shop. He taught me how to make parts . He was the man who gave me my first job.

“There was even a time or two when he had me prepare his car. He had me change gears and prepare his car to race - against me. That was kind of funny.”

That experience propelled Martin to a career racing - and winning - at the highest levels of NASCAR.

The 57-year-old won 40 races on NASCAR’s top series, with 453 top-10 finishes. He has enjoyed success on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, with seven wins and 20 top-10s in 25 races, and the Xfinity Series, with 49 victories and 152 top-10s in 236 races.

Martin is scheduled to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame later this month.

But first, the Ozarks Area Racers Foundation honor. It means as much as anything for the man who cut his teeth in the Ozarks while driving his orange No. 2 Chevy Camaro.

Nine others, including Martin’s father, the late Julian Martin, and Lucas Oil Speedway owner Forrest Lucas, were set to be inducted, in ceremonies in the shadow of where the half-mile asphalt track once stood at the Fairgrounds.

That’s where Martin honed his craft as a teenager.

He said his success on the top levels of the racing world wouldn’t have happened without the lessons he learned in the Ozarks.

“For me, it was like going to the big time,” Martin said of his time at the Fairgrounds. “Leaving the dirt tracks of Arkansas and going up there and racing . man, it was awesome.”

He gave credit for mentors like Arkansas car builder Larry Shaw, who just passed the milestone of producing his 5,000th race car, and his father, Julian, as driving forces behind igniting his career.

Martin retired from NASCAR in 2014 and has been back to the Ozarks a couple of times since walking away, checking out dirt-track events at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland. He’s now a part-owner of top-flight dirt Late Model race teams for drivers Scott Bloomquist and Jared Landers.

He was joined in the Hall of Fame class by Terry Bivins, Rick Sharp, Robbie Johnson and the late Rayme Johnson in the “Legend” division for driving. The “Pioneer” division inductees are Julian Martin, Lucas, Bill Davis, Ned Reynolds and Ronnie Williams.

This year’s class will bring the number of Hall of Famers to 187, with their names added to the granite monument on display at the west side of the Fairgrounds, on what was the entrance to the old pit road.

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