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Martinsville Speedway will install LED lights for 2017 season

The addition of lights creates the possibility the historic track, which opened in 1947, could host a night Sprint Cup race.

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Martinsville Speedway, NASCAR's oldest track, is embracing modern technology and will become the first North American motorsports facility to have LED lighting.

The project was revealed in a press conference featuring Dale Earnhardt Jr. Wednesday at the venerable Virginia half-mile track, and will cost an estimated $5 million, paid for by International Speedway Corp., the track's parent company. Construction will begin following the Oct. 30 Sprint Cup race and is expected to be completed in time for Martinsville's annual spring NASCAR race (April 2) coinciding with its 70th anniversary.

Martinsville president Clay Campbell described the installation as an "insurance policy." That safety net could come into play whenever Martinsville's pair of 500-lap races run long, as was the case last fall when Jeff Gordon won in near-darkness.

Another option Campbell acknowledged was for Martinsville to switch one or both of its races to night, though there are no immediate plans to do so. NASCAR has already announced its start times for 2017, with Martinsville's two races starting at 2 p.m. ET (spring) and 1 p.m. (fall).

Martinsville opened in 1947 and has held NASCAR races since the sanctioning body was founded in 1948. It is one of three active short tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule along with Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway, which both host one night race yearly.

"We always associate most short tracks with having lights and racing Friday and Saturday nights," Earnhardt said. "So it adds that kind of opportunity for Martinsville to have that chance one day.

"Adding lights to the track will only add to its legacy."

Once Martinsville completes the installation, Dover International Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Sonoma Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway, and Watkins Glen International will be the only Sprint Cup venues without lights.