At the Finish Line:  Kent Martin

“QUINCY, Ill. – Kent Raymond Martin, 73, of Quincy, Ill., formerly of Kahoka, Mo., died peacefully Thursday, April 17, 2014, at his home, surrounded by his family.”

The above note appeared Thursday afternoon on Google and it seems quiet and ordinary.  But if you knew Kent Martin in the ‘60s and have ever been connected with drag racing in the upper Mississippi River valley, it is much more than that.

Kent was as big in life as anyone who ever lived, particularly with his zest for speed and power. His family owned a Buick dealership in Kahoka, Mo. And most of Kent’s drag racing pertained to Buicks and Buick motors. First, during high school at Clark County High, Martin built an inboard boat for the Mississippi River, Buick powered, of course.

When his home track, Tri State Dragway, opened in 1960, one of the driving influences was Kent. Knowing that several local racers were changing from full bodied cars to altereds, Kent showed up at the Grand Opening with a ’32 Ford five-window coupe and Buick power.  It is doubtful that Tri State Dragway would have existed if not for Kent Martin.

In 1961 Martin built a dragster from scratch. He installed a Buick engine, and off he went into the record books, That dragster still exists, but with a Chevrolet motor. The car probably has more runs on it than Kent could have imagined.

The Kahoka whiz also campaigned nearly every ‘hot’ Buick produced by the factory during the 1960s. In 1963 he took delivery of a Skylark with the all-aluminum motor option and removed the engine for ’blueprint’ as soon as it was unloaded at the dealership. He then drove the car to Daytona Beach, Fla., for NASCAR Speed Week and won the overall E/Stock Championship after seven grueling nights of competition.

While Kent raced a lot at his home track and his trophy case also contains wins at Alton Dragway, Mid-America Dragway, Cordova-Quad Cities Dragway, and US 30 in Gary, Indiana.

Martin’s racing was cut short by the untimely death of his father Ray J. in an accident during an Arizona vacation. The young Martin immediately parked his racing stable. He stayed home in Kahoka and ran the family business with his Mom. Under Kent’s leadership, the Martin Implement & Buick Company became Martin Realty.

Make no mistake, had Kent been able to continue the family business, take care of his mother, and still race, he would have done so. And from this writer’s perspective he would have attained the national recognition he so richly deserved. Rest in peace, my friend.