To mark the return of Dodge to Winston Cup racing, Crash.Net, together with Martinsville Speedway, will be taking a look at the their long and successful history and speaking to some of those involved in the manufacturers return to NASCAR racing this season.

Part One.

When the first Strictly Stock race rolled to a close at Martinsville Speedway in 1949, Lee Petty and his Plymouth chased Red Byron's Oldsmobile right to the checkered flag.

Petty, who never liked to lose, probably wasn't happy with his second-place finish on H.Clay Earles' .526-mile dirt track that Sunday afternoon. But little did the patriarch of the Petty clan realize he was starting a long and successful relationship between Dodge and Martinsville Speedway.

That relationship will be renewed when the green flag falls on the Virginia 500 April 8 when Dodge makes it return to Martinsville Speedway. It will be the first time a Dodge product has participated in a Winston Cup race at Martinsville since 1984.

Dodge didn't have to wait long for a Martinsville win after Petty's runner-up finish in 1949. The next year, 1950, Herb Thomas drove a Plymouth to victory in a 200-lapper for Dodge's first Martinsville victory in what would eventually become the NASCAR Winston Cup division.

Three years later Dodge drivers began a streak at Martinsville that carried through the track's conversion from dirt to asphalt.

Jim Paschal and Lee Petty gave Dodge a sweep of the two 200-lap races in 1953 and Petty drove a Chrysler to victory in 1954 in a race shortened to 165 laps by rain. Driving a Dodge, Tim Flock won the last race on the dirt at Martinsville in May of 1955, beating another Dodge driver, Petty, to the checkered flag.

When the Winston Cup circuit returned to Martinsville five months later, the track had been paved, but that didn't slow the Dodge contingent. Speedy Thompson mastered the new asphalt, driving a Chrysler, in front of a crowd of over 12,000, a track record.

The next spring, Earles had another trick up his sleeve; he lengthened his races to 500 laps - but that didn't slow the Dodge troops either.

Buck Baker, Speedy Thompson and Lee Petty gave Dodge a one-two-three finish in the Virginia 500 and Jack Smith rolled to victory in a Dodge in the fall event.

It would be six years before Dodge had a winner at Martinsville again, but it was an omen of things to come. Richard Petty won the 1960 Virginia 500, the first of 10 Martinsville wins in Dodge products for Petty.

He didn't win again at Martinsville until the Virginia 500 in 1967, but that began one of the most incredible streaks in the history of the track. He won both races in 1967, won one in 1970, swept the track's two Winston Cup races in 1971 and 1972, won one again in 1973 before capturing his last Martinsville race for Dodge in 1975.

As Dodge's involvement in Winston Cup race began to wind down, Dave Marcis gave the manufacturer its last Martinsville win in the fall of 1975. It was Dodge's 22nd win on the .526-mile oval.

The last Dodge start at Martinsville came in the Goody's 500 on Sept. 23, 1984 when Buddy Arrington started 28th and finished 18th.

Dodge will have a large contingent of teams in its Winston Cup return in 2001. Petty Enterprises will lead the charge with three cars. Evernham Motorsports will field two cars, as will Bill Davis Racing and Ganassi Racing. Melling Racing will be a one-car operation.

John Andretti, Buckshot Jones and Kyle Petty will fill the seats of Petty Enterprises three Dodges while veteran Bill Elliott and rookie Casey Atwood will pilot the Evernham entries.

Ward Burton and Dave Blaney will be in the Davis' entries, while Sterling Marlin will drive one of the Ganassi cars. Stacy Compton will also be back for his second year with Melling.