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TOOLIN’ AROUND TOWN: Friendliness was constant attribute to Martinez family

One of Billy Martinez’ favorite memories of growing up in Petaluma — from back in the 1960s, when tooling around town on Friday night was a part of nearly every teenager’s regular routine — was when he and others would pull into closed gas stations along the boulevard to sit and chat while a colorful parade of shiny custom cars, hot rods and family sedans cruised past.

Raised in a family that was firmly rooted in Petaluma’s business community and entrenched in every facet of automotive maintenance — where he had access to the tools and mechanical knowledge few others did — it seemed only natural that his interests would lean towards extremely fast cars, and a need for speed.

That early exposure to automotive specialties not only formed the foundation of a successful mechanical career, it became a toolbox of knowledge that guided Martinez into a lifelong affinity for racing. Not just the occasional drag race on city streets, but full-time sanctioned race-car driving at Petaluma Speedway and at racetracks throughout Northern California.

For local history buffs, any conversation involving Billy Martinez has got to start with his father, William “Marty” Martinez, an endearing presence among Petaluma service station owners, and to everyone that knew him. Marty was so well known around town that he, like old-timers Moch Lucchesi, Curley Acorne, Noonie Del Maestro and Red Libarle, was recognized by just his nickname.

With great appreciation for the extensive research by Petaluma historian Terry Park — who has written a book titled “Petaluma Service Stations,” documenting in detail the history of Petaluma’s first gasoline service stations, their advances and milestones, and the men who operated them — we’ve learned that Marty Martinez was just 22 when he went into business for himself as the proprietor of Marty’s Shell Service, at Bodega Avenue and Baker Street, in 1932.

Described in newspaper accounts as a splendid youth, genial and accommodating, with a happy cheery smile, Marty Martinez was one of Petaluma’s best liked and most successful young businessmen.

In 1934, Martinez and Ben Rudolph took over the Texaco station at West and North Main streets. In 1938, it became Marty’s Texaco, operated by Marty and his brother Cecil Martinez. During his 50 years in business, including 45 years at the same location — which set records for individual service station owners in Petaluma — Martinez simultaneously operated several other service stations and garages around town.

Born with the inherently affable nature and kindness of his father, Billy Martinez acquired his first car, a 1932 Ford, when he was 11. His first street worthy car, purchased for $475 when he was 16, was an Oldsmobile powered ’41 Chevy. Over the years, he’s owned no fewer than 21 vehicles, most of them bulging with horsepower, along with numerous race cars and motorcycles.

Working at Marty’s Texaco, Billy did oil changes and lube jobs and pumped gas. He didn’t bother taking auto shop at Petaluma High (Class of ’61), but he did enroll in automotive courses at Santa Rosa Junior College. Bit by the racing bug, he began racing $99 claimers in the hardtop division at Petaluma Speedway in 1963. Progressing to limited sportsmen, super stock and sprint cars, he raced winged midgets from 1985 until 1993 with the Bay Cities Racing Association. After opening Bill’s Garage, in 1980, Martinez started Bill’s Mobile Auto Repair and then joined Crowther Racing, where he built racing engines for about seven years, before working as a mechanic at Beloce Motors West for another seven years.

Martinez married his sweetheart, Nancy Chase, in 1965 and together the couple reared two daughters, Michelle and Monica, in the same circa 1927 house Billy grew up in, purchased by his parents, Marty and Claire, in 1936 for $3,600. Nancy worked as a beautician and for Viacom before her passing in 2015.

“I was blessed to have a father like him. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better,” said 73-year-old Martinez, responding to inquiries about growing up in the shadow of his well-known father. He happily enjoys his three grandchildren and two great-grandkids, along with working around the house, taking care of the yard and riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle.

The Martinez family traces its history back to Don Ygnacio Martinez, who was born in Mexico City in 1774 and was the recipient of a 17,000-acre Mexican land grant, Rancho El Pinole. He and his wife, Martina Arellanes, were the parents of 11 children and one of their daughters married sea captain William A. Richardson. The city of Martinez was named after him in 1849.

(Harlan Osborne’s column, Toolin’ Around Town, appears every two weeks. Contact him at harlan@sonic.net)