(NOTE: Jimmy White manages NASCAR’s Raybestos Rookie of the Year and WIX Filters Lap Leader programs. He is the media relations director for Affinia Motorsports and works for the best Camp & Associates public relations agency.)
There are two types of people: those that love the racing at Talladega Superspeedway and those who don’t.
Count me among those who love it.
As someone who earns a living in NASCAR, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to every racetrack that hosts a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. And while I enjoy visiting certain areas of the country, there are very few races that I’d pay money to watch.
Talladega is one of them.
The racing at the 2.66-mile superspeedway is unreal. Cars fan out in three-wide formations and stay there lap after lap, inches apart for 500 miles. The giant pack of snarling race cars leaves even the most grizzled veteran observers searching for words to accurately describe what they just witnessed.
My first visit to Talladega came at the 1988 DieHard 500 in July of 1988. Tickets to the race were a graduation gift from my dad. We left our home in North Carolina Friday night before the race and arrived at the track on Saturday morning just in time for Sprint Cup final practice and the ARCA race.
And believe it or not, the ARCA race was quite memorable. As Dad and I sat in the OV Hill grandstand in the tri-oval of the frontstretch, I vividly recall Pattie Moise leading the race. I remember being blown away by the fact that a young lady was so competitive.
The Cup race the following afternoon was also something I’d never forget. I was blown away by the constant side-by-side racing in the event and the constant swarm of cars exchanging the lead lap after lap. And in the end, a young guy made a bold move late in the race to score his first Sprint Cup Series victory. The driver was a promising young lad named Ken Schrader.
Races at Talladega have a better than average chance to be memorable.
Who could forget Ron Bouchard’s three-wide pass around Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte to score his only Sprint Cup Series win in the 1981 Talladega 500?
Or how about the 75 lead changes in the Winston 500 here back in 1984?
One year later Bill Elliott made up two laps under green in a blazing fast Ford Thunderbird and went on to win the race.
The victory by Dale Earnhardt in the 2000 fall race, where he rallied from 11th to first in the closing laps is still referenced by many as of the greatest moments in Earnhardt’s career.
And people are still buzzing about the Tony Stewart-Regan Smith finish here from last fall.
Nobody knows what’s going to happy here Sunday afternoon, but Talladega is one of the few tracks where the chances are good that race fans are going to be buzzing about the finish for a long time.
And that’s good enough for me.