Talladega was built for one thing and one thing only: Speed, Sheer, unbridled, foot to the floor speed. When "Big" Bill France broke ground on what was then called the Alabama International Motor Speedway at the site of a former airfield in the hills of Northern Alabama in May of 1968, his goal was to develop a longer and faster version of the iconic Daytona International Speedway in Florida, also the brainchild of France.
By the time the $4 million facility opened on September 13, 1969, France had constructed a track so fast, so long in length, so ahead of its time that the first drivers could not race around it without developing major tire wear issues. This led to a driver's boycott of the track and France employing the use of substitute drivers. The finish of that first race was nonetheless exciting, culminating in a three-wide at the line finish, with a little known driver from Rocky Point, North Carolina, by the name of Richard Brickhouse securing the victory. Brickhouse would continue on to have 13 Top 10 finishes in his brief career while Talladega Superspeedway would go on to become the track referred to simply as: "The Big One".
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Talladega offers an expansive array of food and beverage options, including but not limited to, a Captain D's, the first one I have seen at a sports venue. Another feature, that I'm sure will be quickly copied, and this is already the case at a few NASCAR venues, allows for the usage of credit cards at certain concession outlets.
The "standard" concession outlets at the speedway had a food lineup that consisted of all the traditional fare: hot dogs, hamburgers & cheeseburgers, French fries, popcorn, candy, soda, etc. The prices were reasonable and would place the concession value at Talladega Superspeedway squarely in the average of NASCAR facilities. Talladega has a fair number stands and kiosks sprinkled along the one mile frontstretch main grandstand.
I did not observe any terribly long wait times and the concourse is wide enough in most spots that any lines that do form have plenty of room to flow. This means that you do not have to deal with that annoying experience witnessed at many sports venues of standing in line, while, due to the narrow concourses, having to move forwards or backwards, to allow for the flow of pedestrian traffic. I believe this actually helps result in a quicker move forward for the line.
Talladega is as rowdy as they come. Talladega is a party where a race breaks out. Talladega is a place where it might be wise to use some discretion when bringing along the very little ones, especially if your plans include camping in the infamous Talladega infield. With all that said, I am not implying that Talladega isn't a track suited for families, quite the contrary.
The family atmosphere that permeates Talladega is one of the things that defines its lore and explains why the same families have been coming to Talladega since their youth. This is a continuation of a cycle that merely repeats itself with each passing generation. The folks that visit Talladega come to befriend those who sit around them and often develop lasting relationships, even if they only renew those relationships two weekends per year.
That camaraderie is likely part of the reason that the Talladega infield has become so synonymous with a rowdy good time, Southern stock car style. When you have an issue develop over your favorite driver, commonly with a little liquid courage thrown in for good measure, you turn to your family and friends to stand beside you, and boom, tempers flare. The one thing that these fans, regardless of affiliation, can agree on is that if you are not looking for a good time, in the stands, on the track, or in the infield, then Talladega might not be the track for you.
This passion is even evident outside the track, from the ferocity of parking-lot tailgate games, to the go-cart track set up alongside souvenir row, where you can battle your friends for bragging rights, these fans want to win outside the track and want their driver to win on the track. There is also a party bead scene, mini Mardi Gras style, available and I will leave it at that.
On a personal note I can only imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when night racing might be available at Talladega, an experience that, in my eyes, would push race day at Talladega over top.
Talladega Superspeedway rises from the landscape, low slung and expansive, over countless acres of North Alabama farmland. As such the "neighborhood", so to speak, offers very little in terms of ambiance. Spare a few gas stations, fast food restaurants, and local establishments, the area around Talladega is definitely rural in nature. If you want to experience any nightlife, enjoy a meal of a finer nature, or partake in a non-racing oriented shopping experience then a car will be necessary.
A few towns of decent size are located nearby, towns such as Anniston, Oxford, and Pell City. I suspect that many of the fans coming to Talladega make the trip from either Birmingham to the West, or Atlanta from the East. The thing to remember about a number of NASCAR tracks, tracks like Talladega, Darlington, and Martinsville, is that they were built at a time when stock car racing was mostly a Southern sport. The tracks sought to locate near their fan base and thereby an assignment of ranking regarding the neighborhood aspect of a facility like Talladega is going to inevitably suffer. It certainly helps that large tracks of relatively inexpensive land lie in these farming fields.
Over the years the surrounding areas have grown, in both population and commercial activity, yet development is still somewhat sparse, especially when compared to the traditional sports venues in a sport like Major League Baseball, think Fenway Park in Boston or Wrigley Field in Chicago.
I've already alluded to the passion of Talladega fans in the atmosphere section but what I haven't mentioned is that along with the passion comes a dedication level practically unrivaled elsewhere on the circuit. They arrive early and stay late. Camping, and all the associated activities, is the main extracurricular attraction of Talladega. I don't have any hard numbers to prove this but I would highly suspect that more campers and tents call the grounds of Talladega Superspeedway home during race weeks than any other track.
Part of the reason for this stems from the lack of reasonably priced hotels in the immediate vicinity, and the somewhat long drive necessary to find moderately priced lodging on the outskirts of Birmingham or Atlanta. Part of the reason is also attributable to the family/party atmosphere found in the various campgrounds inside and outside the track.
The time spent commuting to an adequate at best, over priced room, could be better spent constructing monster smores, enjoying the sounds of live music from all corners wafting through the area (Country star Gretchen Wilson performed an infield concert on the Saturday night of my visit), or just sitting outside, citronella candle lighting the evening, enjoying the smooth comfort of an Alabama Saturday night.
In addition to the primary means of access, East-to-West running Interstate 20, a small but viable network of state roads filter into and out of the area surrounding Talladega Superspeedway. I can honestly say that I came expecting the worst as I've heard numerous horror stories about Talladega traffic. Like any event that draws 100,000 plus fans you are going to have traffic congestion. That having been said the state and local authorities, in conjunction with Speedway staff, seemed to have developed a nice traffic pattern plan which allowed for a very reasonable egress and ingress.
Once in the vicinity, parking is relatively simple to obtain. Most of the parking is located on farmland which has been mowed down and marked off. Access to the majority of parking is via gravel walkways so be prepared, especially the ladies, to do some walking on not so accommodating surfaces.
Some private parking is available, with a premium rate being charged for those lots or yards with access to the immediate feeder highways. The wait times to pass through security checkpoints and have your ticket scanned seemed very reasonable. The access inside the facility has its strong points and its slightly weaker points.
Among the positives are wide concourses, wide aisles, and all new seating. A recent project completely overhauled the mile long main front stretch grandstand and this resulted in Talladega having mostly all chair back & armrest seating. This is a major plus and something of a rarity on the Sprint Cut Circuit. This track is so large that if you are seated in the lower bowl you will most likely not be able to visually view the entire track.
Helping compensate for this series sponsor, Sprint offers large TVs which are set up just behind pit road to afford views of the racing action all the way around the track. If you are seated in the larger upper bowl you should be able to view the action all the way around, even from the lowest rows of the upper bowl.
One thing that I particularly noticed in regards to seating is a row of elevated "box" seating, located along the front of the main concourse, just above the top row of lower bowl seating. It appeared that the majority of the boxes consisted of 8-10 seats and the boxes are covered to help deflect any natural elements, such as rain, from the patrons sitting here.
The counterpart is that the main grandstand has been carved into the land and that has resulted in having to walk up upon entrance to ascend to the main concourse. Ramps are present for those needing them but they are quite steep and spaced somewhat apart. Stairs are available from the main concourse to the upper grandstand and elevators are available, though again, widely spaced, to assist those needing assistance to access the upper grandstand area.
The restrooms here are not the best on the circuit, but they are not the worst either. It appeared that the restrooms were a bit of a crap shoot, pardon the pun. Some appeared "newer" and more recently updated than others and some appeared to have been kept better stocked as well.
Tickets at Talladega are no longer the hard to come by ticket that they once were. Of course, the same could be said for practically every venue and event on the calendar. Most of this is primarily courtesy of the down economy. Nonetheless, a ticket to Talladega is still revered by many NASCAR fans. You know that when you put down your hard earned money to buy a ticket to a race at Talladega you are going to be getting a strong return on investment, including an afternoon spent on the edge of your seat, full of side-by-side racing for lap after lap, just waiting to see if and when the big one will happen.
The aforementioned experience(s) outside, or inside, the track revolving around the robust camping experience must also be factored in as an element of your return on investment. The fans at Talladega keep coming to Talladega and view the bang for their buck to be high at this track for many reasons.
Like is the case at any other track on the NASCAR circuit, fans are willing to travel if the racing is good, the staff is friendly, and the fans are knowledgeable. Talladega is the perfect example of this dedication to travel by the NASCAR fan.
Talladega Superspeedway is home to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (IMHF), located just off the main entrance to the speedway, along state highway 399, aka, Speedway Blvd. The IMHF was founded by Bill France, Sr., in 1982 as a way to honor those who have significantly contributed to the sport of auto racing, be it as a driver, owner, engineer, or promoter.
Unlike the newly opened NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, induction in the IMHF is open to those in any form of the sport of auto racing, not just specifically NASCAR, though those involved in NASCAR do comprise the core of the IMHF membership. To be eligible a person must have been retired from their respective involvement in the sport for at least five years, save exclusion for age or special early induction. IMHF induction is also open to those involved in non-American forms of motorsports, evidenced last by the inclusion of the legendary Nigel Mansel in 2005.
The IMHF has an amazingly diverse of legendary vehicles, even including the Budweiser rocket, a speedboat, and an airplane that was used by the famed Bobby Allison and the famed "Alabama Gang". The hall is also home to one of the most comprehensive motorsports collections around, the McCaig-Wellborn Motorsports Research Library, which is open to the general public visiting the hall on weekdays.
During an event weekend the IMHF is open extended hours and during the rest of the year, during non-event times, the IMHF can be visited between the hours of 9am and 5pm, save major holidays when the hall of fame is closed. For a price of $16 for adults, and $8 for students, fans can tour the IMHF at their own self-guided pace and also enjoy a track tour as part of the experience. The track tour includes a ride in an 18-passenger van around the high-banked 2.66 mile facility, as long as no on-track activities are taking place.
Another feature that is increasing in popularity at a number of tracks on the circuit is trackside, elevated, motorhome parking. At Talladega this parking is offered from about halfway down the backstretch to the entrance to Turn 3. This parking allows a motorhome patron visiting Talladega for the races to enjoy the view of the events from the comfort of their home on the road. I can certainly imagine how viewing a race from this spot, with all the comforts of home mere feet away, can be an experience which quickly sets the standard for at-the-track comfort.
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