This is part of a series of posts sponsored by Talladega Superspeedway. Whether you are making a week-long vacation out of it or coming just for a day, make sure to plan your Talladega experience today. This is more than a race. This is Talladega.
With Talladega only five weeks away, we're introducing a 'Dega-themed countdown beginning today to get you ready for the Aaron's 499 – the first restrictor-plate race since the Daytona 500.
And what better way to kick off the series than by talking about Talladega Superspeedway itself? Any fan who has visited Talladega before can certainly recall their first impressions of the track; today, I'm sharing mine.
If you can believe it, my first time at Talladega was only four years ago – in April 2007. I was assigned to cover the race for the magazine I worked for at the time.
By then, I'd already been to most of the tracks on the circuit – but not ‘Dega. And as a first-time reporter there, I was probably just as excited to see NASCAR's biggest track as most of the fans were.
I drove down from Charlotte and arrived in Alabama on a sunny, spring afternoon – just in time for a Nationwide Series practice day. There were campers rolling in for the weekend, but the track was still relatively quiet by Talladega standards.
I pulled off the interstate, turned into the track's main entrance and drove down the avenue toward the tunnel, the anticipation building. Quite honestly, I'd been looking forward to seeing the place since I'd started following NASCAR – and that had only grown since Talladega Nights was released the previous year.
After a wave from the guard, I steered into the narrow tunnel underneath the track and emerged into daylight on the other side.
It was even more awesome than I'd hoped.
"No way," I said to my passenger (which happened to be my laptop computer bag). "No. Way!"
It was that big, that impressive. I remember having a similar reaction upon seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time: Whoa.
I just wasn't quite prepared for what it would be like – and I think that's because no one can quite describe Talladega to someone who's never seen it before.
This is what I tell people who have never been: Take the biggest track your brain can imagine, then add steep banking and a massive infield that could fit a small town inside.
Got it? Good. Talladega is even bigger than that.
Anyway, I rolled into the track, dropped my stuff off in the media center and immediately walked out to pit road. Practice was just about to get underway, and I was anxious to see if the cars would start drafting.
Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long to find out. I found a set of bleachers on the inside of the track toward the end of pit road, and plopped down. I just wanted to experience the pack roaring by, which was the ultimate 'Dega experience in my mind.
About a dozen cars made their way out of the garage, hustled down pit road toward Turn 1 and disappeared into the distance.
I couldn't see them after that for a bit. I could just hear them, engines winding louder and getting up to speed. Were they doing single-car runs? Or would they practice drafting together?
Suddenly, I got my answer. The cars burst into sight in one colorful pack, screaming through the trioval and streaking down to the start/finish line – like fighter jets in formation, separated by just inches.
As they zoomed past, it practically startled me. And this is just practice, I thought. Awesome.
Watching racing at Talladega can literally take your breath away – after all, the tension and excitement makes you hold it in. While I've gotten used to the type of racing at some other tracks in the years since, I'm not sure the thrill of Talladega will ever wear off.