Talladega is death and drama drenched in barbecue sauce
[Hey. This is the latest edition of my occasional dispatch of very good sportswriting. The most recent, on the Masters, is right here. Subscribe right here to get these delivered to you as they drop.]
Greetings from a breezy Atlanta. It’s springtime, right on the cusp of May, which means it’s time for NASCAR to make its spring pilgrimage to the Alabama hinterlands. Talladega is the largest, meanest track on the circuit, if not the entire country, and both driving it and visiting it require a special strain of insanity.
If your only point of reference when hearing “Talladega” is the Will Ferrell movie, well, that’s a darn fine starting line. Here, the wrecks are so catastrophic and comprehensive that they even have a name–“The Big One”–and the infield’s party ranks alongside Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras and Churchill Downs on Derby Day as the finest epicenters of sanctioned debauchery in America. It’s a place where cars hurtle so fast they had to be mechanically slowed down so that they wouldn’t vault into the grandstands, a place where an instant’s bad decision can ripple for decades. It’s one of my favorite venues in all of sports.
If you’ve never watched a NASCAR race, Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega would be a fine place to start. And if you’re a crusty old oil-under-the-nails NASCAR fan, you know what’s coming. Here’s a roundup of stories about the history and insanity of Talladega to get you in the right frame of mind.
• First off, here’s Ed Hinton weaving a history of Talladega and an appreciation of William Faulkner into the same column. Can’t get more Southern than that, friend.
• A second dose of Ed, on how a failed attempt at a driver’s strike at Talladega in 1969 (drivers feared the track was too unsafe) remains the track’s defining moment, as well as one of NASCAR’s most significant off-track battles.
• Tom Higgins writes on all the many “curses” of the track; real or not, many drivers have lost their lives at Talladega, some under highly curious circumstances.
• Ryan McGee dives deeper into those curses, starting all the way back with the Native Americans who were run off the land by Andrew Jackson in the 19th century.
• Monte Dutton shares a few memorable stories of Talladegas past, including a tale of fans showing their, uh, appreciation to Tony Stewart that you won’t soon forget.
• Marty Smith delves into the story behind Eric Church’s “Talladega,” one of the best country songs of the post-Johnny Cash era.
• What’s it like to drive at Talladega as a civilian? Here, let Spencer Hall show you. (This is a must-read, if only to understand what insanity NASCAR drivers go through on a weekly basis.)
Hey, you didn’t think you were going to get out of here without me hawking my wares to you, did you? SIT DOWN, YOU.
• A few years back, I covered the Kentucky Derby and Talladega on back-to-back days. That was a hell of a lot of fun, and here’s the story that came of it.
• Take my hand and I’ll give you a tour of the Talladega infield, from barbecue-sauce wrestling to beer-drinking dogs to … well, let your mind wander. Farther.
(And, of course, there are plenty of Talladega stories in EARNHARDT NATION, available at Amazon right here. Cheap plug! Cheap plug!)
All right, it’s getting about time I pack up and get on the road to Talladega. (Fun fact: the same highway, Interstate 20, runs right past both Talladega and Augusta National. Worlds apart.) Thanks for checking all this out; I’ll be sending out a new collection of quality reading every few weeks or so. If you’re not already a subscriber, sign up right here.