The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 day ago

Birmingham’s 2019 Sidewalk Film Festival embraces ’80s-inspired films

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

If one sentence can sum up the theme of the 2019 Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, this one from the festival’s website is it:“Generation X clearly had a massive influence on independent film content this season.”

This year’s festival will feature a number of ’80s-inspired films, including “I Want My MTV,” a documentary by Tyler Measom and Patrick Waldrop that will be shown Friday night to kick off the weekend. Organizers say many films this year have focused on, or been obviously influenced by, the “Greed decade.”

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“I’m really excited about it,” said Chloe Cook, executive director of the Sidewalk Film Festival. “We’ll be screening more than 350 films over the course of the next seven days, with the bulk of those screenings happening this Saturday and Sunday. There’s lots of content — way more than you can possibly see in one weekend, but you are encouraged to map out things you think would appeal to you.”

A preview of Sidewalk Film Festival 2019 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The films will be screened simultaneously in 12 venues Saturday and Sunday, including some films showing in the festival’s new Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema in the basement of the Pizitz building on Second Avenue North.

“If you don’t like what’s showing at one theater, you are encouraged to get up and go try a different film in a different venue over the course of the weekend,” Cook said. “We’ll be showing the latest and greatest in independent feature films as well as shorts across all genres, including documentaries, episodic content and XR (Extended Realities) content.

Cook said XR programming consists of a mixture of AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) content, bringing audiences the newest innovations in immersive digital storytelling.

“This year we’re running those things two-fold where you can do our XR Cinema, which is where you are in the experience you are watching but you’re not able to manipulate that experience in as many ways, and then we have our regular XR programming where you can choose the length of time that you spend in that experience, and it’s a little more individualized,” Cook said. “You’re going to put on the headsets in either scenario and we’ll be showcasing some of the newer technology that’s less accessible to the general public.”

The Sidewalk Film Festival began in 1999 as a way to encourage filmmaking in Alabama and build audiences for independent films. Cook, who has headed the festival since 2009, said festival volunteers continue to amaze her.

“The festival always gives me the feels because we have about 750 volunteers that work with us over the course of the week to make the festival happen, doing everything from picking up filmmakers at the airport to tearing tickets to selling tickets to running venues,” Cook said. “It really is a huge collaborative effort. I just think it’s such a cool thing that happens in the city of Birmingham.”

To learn more about the Sidewalk Film Festival, including where to buy tickets and see a schedule, visit SidewalkFest.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 days ago

Birmingham’s new Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema is ready for its premiere

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

The new, permanent home of Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival will open its doors this weekend, just in time for this year’s event.

Chloe Cook, executive director of the Sidewalk Film Festival, said the 11,500 square-foot facility is not complete, but is far enough along to be used as a festival venue this weekend.

“After the festival we will go dark for a week,” Cook said. “Then we will have a soft opening Labor Day weekend before our grand opening September 13-15. We’re very excited.”

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Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema a dream come true from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The cinema, located in the basement of the Pizitz building on 2nd Avenue North, features two 89-seat theaters and an education room for special events. Outside of the festival week, it will function very much like a typical movie theater, operating seven days a week on a year-round basis, screening the latest independent feature films on one of two screens.

“We’re excited to have something slightly larger than a jewel-box movie theater, but not a huge multiplex-type facility where we can carefully curate the programming for our community,” Cook said. “When I took the job in 2009 I did not imagine this would come to fruition. I really think a lot of redevelopment in the north side of downtown Birmingham has happened around our annual festival and it continued happening to the point that we felt like the timing was right to pursue this project and fill that cultural void.”

Cook said the $4.9 million facility would not have happened without the generous support of a variety of contributors.

“We have been so fortunate to receive generous support from our corporate community, including Alabama Power (Foundation)Regions BankBlue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, as well as our foundation community,” Cook said. “We’ve seen support from the Hugh Kaul Foundation, The Stephens Foundation, The Daniel Foundation, but we’ve also seen a lot of individuals who are not people who could start a foundation but they can send in a check for $250 or $25. That’s been really rewarding.”

To learn more about the Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema, visit MakeMovieMagic.com. To learn more about the Sidewalk Film Festival, visit SidewalkFest.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Census Bureau director, Alabama officials urge everyone to participate in 2020 Census

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham pictured with U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt and Gov. Kay Ivey (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

The director of the U.S. Census Bureau traveled to Alabama yesterday to urge everyone living in the state to participate in next year’s census.

Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt invited U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham to Cullman Wednesday to talk about Alabama Counts, the state’s action plan to accurately count the number of people living in Alabama next year. Gov. Kay Ivey said her goal is to get 80% participation which, if achieved, would be a record high.

Why all of the added emphasis?

“If we turn out at the rate we did in 2000, we will lose two congressional seats,” Ivey said. “If we turn out at the rate we did in 2010, we will lose one.”

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Census information also determines the amount of money the state receives from the federal government to pave interstates, support Medicare and fund other programs in the state.

“The results are real important,” Ivey said. “It determines how many congress people we will have representing our voice in Washington and it also represents a high amount of dollars we will lose if we lose representation.”

In other words, getting counted counts.

“So much is dependent on the census,” Aderholt added. “If we want Alabama to grow and prosper economically, we need people to fill out the census.”

The 2020 Census will, for the first time, allow citizens to use the internet to report their household information. Dillingham said the agency is going to great lengths to make sure all the data is safe and anonymous.

“Everyone in America should be willing to give that information and know that it’s secure,” Dillingham said. “It will not — in any way, be shared with others, not with law enforcement or anyone else.”

Dillingham said the agency will be adding “digital noise” to data reports to prevent anyone from being able to link responses to specific people.

“The agency has employed dozens of people to make sure the data cannot be merged with other public data from other federal, state and local agencies to connect people with specific responses,” Dillingham said.

Dillingham said his agency is currently sending out workers to knock on doors and verify mailing addresses. He said the agency is also using technology, such as satellite imagery, to help workers determine if houses are still standing in areas where they were in 2010.

“The rural areas are of special interest to us,” Dillingham said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that we reach everyone. Sometimes it’s a farmer’s market or any kind of location where people gather. You can have someone there with a laptop encouraging people to answer the census.”

By April 2020, households will receive an invitation to participate in the census count, which will officially begin on April 1, 2020, also known as “Census Day.” When completing the census, you will note where you are living on April 1.

“We want people to understand that filling out the census form is easy, simple and safe,” Aderholt said. “Alabama can either gain a lot or lose a lot depending on who answers the census questions.”

To learn more about the 2020 Census, visit 2020Census.gov. To learn more about Alabama’s action plan to count as many people as possible in the census, visit census.alabama.gov.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Career, business opportunities growing in Northwest Alabama

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

As the state of Alabama grows its automotive industry, people in Hamilton, Sulligent, Fayette and other towns in Marion, Lamar and Fayette counties believe they are the “Crossroads of the Automotive South,” and they have plenty of facts to back up that claim.

“We’re within 230 miles of 11 automotive manufacturers, we are surrounded by five metros within an hour’s drive of the borders of our region (Tuscaloosa, Tupelo, Memphis, Birmingham and Huntsville), and we are on a new interstate here in Marion County that is wide open for future opportunities,” said David Thornell, President and CEO of C3 of Northwest Alabama. “As suppliers are looking, we feel like we are in the bullseye for those folks to look and take advantage of what we offer.”

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More jobs, opportunities available in Northwest Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Thornell’s group was created in 2010 as a cooperative marketing effort between the cities and counties of Marion, Lamar and Fayette to create and promote an environment wherein businesses will choose to invest and create jobs for area residents.

“It’s always great to have people here to take a look, to learn more, to dig beyond the initial numbers in terms of population that may turn people off, and show them that that’s not really an issue and that the rural environment is probably better in terms of cost and the welcome that they’re going to receive.”

Thornell said the availability of gigabit internet service through Freedom Fiber is very attractive to both businesses and employees.

“We have the very best available in terms of technology,” Thornell said. “You look at the educational advantages — the K-12 and the assignments are given are much easier to carry out when the students have that high-speed connection at home. There are also benefits in the health care industry and just so many things decided today with companies. It’s a must-have. It’s something that we do brag about.”

Thornell said job recruitment and career training programs through AIDT and the Alabama Career Center System are extremely helpful in recruiting businesses and training people for new jobs.

“I don’t know where our state would be without AIDT,” Thornell said. “When we are able to meet with a company and talk about training needs, to get them the capable people they need, trained and ready to go to work when they open up shop, they are taking notice.”

Dan Raburn, an Employment Security Representative with the Hamilton Career Center, said he is seeing a growing number of people asking for career training in a variety of areas.

“There are a lot of options, especially here in the rural area where we are,” Raburn said. “The medical field is very lucrative. People are very interested in training for the automotive industry. We see a lot of that.”

Earlier this year, the Alabama Power Foundation awarded Bevill State Community College in Hamilton a $50,000 Challenge Grant to expand opportunities for workforce development and provide resources to bridge the gap between students and employers. Raburn said his group works closely with Bevill State and other two-year colleges around the state to have people “job-ready” in two years or less.

“These are things like nursing, RN, LPN, physical and occupational therapy, radiology, the trades like machine, tool, electrical and heating and air conditioning,” Raburn said. “I’ve also had some very good success with the electrical program and tractor-trailer driving. There are avenues where you can make $50,000 a year.”

Raburn said it’s never too late to make a career change.

“We are on the cusp here of the next generation of workforce development,” Raburn said. “If you’re not happy where you are, if you’re not making enough money where you are, it’s very important to come into the career center now and let’s look at what your options are and what we can do to help you.”

Thornell said cooperation in workforce development is what continues to attract businesses to northwest Alabama.

“That just shows that this area can support manufacturers,” Thornell said. “They continue to come to northwest Alabama because of the environment and the workforce and the convenience in terms of location and connectivity, not only by highway but also by broadband. We feel like our best days are ahead of us.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Bham BizHub launches to aid Birmingham area entrepreneurs, small businesses

(Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Entrepreneurs and small business owners in the Birmingham area have a new place to find resources they need to grow and succeed.

Bham BizHub is an interactive website that allows entrepreneurs and small business owners to find organizations in the region that can help them with funding, product design, incubation, business planning, communications, marketing, talent, space and events.

“In one website, you find easily accessible tools so entrepreneurs know what resources are available, what services they provide and how to connect with them,” said Virginia Sauer, a market analyst for Birmingham Business Alliance. “The idea was that we have one place where we could understand exactly what resources are available in the region for entrepreneurs. We have that organized by types of services and if they work specifically with startups or small businesses.”

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Sauer was one of several people who collaborated on the website. They discussed details Wednesday morning with a group of area business leaders and entrepreneurs during a special presentation at the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama‘s headquarters in downtown Birmingham.

“It was a huge collaborative project,” said Daisy Homolka, an analyst for Alabama Capital Network. “There were at least 10 organizations that, at certain points, were giving us advice and input about what they know from entrepreneurs, what they would like to see in the Birmingham area and then even just the core working group of people who’ve been making it — we come from three different organizations. It’s been really awesome to work with everyone.”

Sauer said the website is not finished.

“We have our beta resource guides that we’ve created from a knowingly incomplete data set, so we’re working on completing that data set,” Sauer said. “We are working to come up with more long-term solutions, hopefully working in the fall with a local web developer to build out a more permanent site, and work with more entrepreneurs to find out what they really want and need because we don’t want to build a website that doesn’t work the way entrepreneurs need it to.”

To learn more about the project or to use the website, visit bhambizhub.com.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Vulcan will be mascot for World Games 2021

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Birmingham’s iconic Vulcan statue will serve as the mascot of The World Games 2021 in Birmingham.

“Just as Vulcan was our ambassador to attendees of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, he will once again serve as our welcoming ambassador to those who are coming to our city and those who will watch from around the world,” said Jason Eppenger, secretary of the board of directors for Vulcan Park and Museum. “He stands for all of Birmingham and has long stood as a symbol of inspiration and pride for our city.”

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Mascot, new sponsor announced for The World Games 2021 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The World Games 2021 shared the news Wednesday during a news conference at Vulcan Park and Museum. DJ Mackovets, CEO of The World Games 2021, also announced Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama will be the foundation sponsor for “Live Healthy, Play Global,” a new education program tied to the games. Mackovets said the program will be test-launched in Birmingham City Schools during the 2019-2020 academic year and then will be rolled out to include a wide range of schools across the state.

“It takes everybody to make this happen positively,” Mackovets said. “It doesn’t matter what ZIP code you’re in, everybody needs to be involved in this effort to make it successful.”

“Sponsoring The World Games 2021 education program is an ideal partnership since teaching healthy habits at an early age will help lead to a healthier Alabama,” said Tim Vines, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. “We are proud to serve with other foundation partners and we look forward to being a part of this historic event that will be a legacy for our great city of Birmingham and for the state of Alabama.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama joins Alabama PowerProtectiveRegions, and Shipt as official Foundation Partners of The World Games 2021. Additional support has been provided by the City of BirminghamJefferson County and Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The World Games 2021 is scheduled to begin July 15, 2021. Mackovets said the next 721 days will be very busy, with volunteer recruiting scheduled to begin in May 2020 and ticket sales scheduled to begin around July 15, 2020.

“As the IWGA continues to remind us, and rightfully so, time passes very quickly,” Mackovets said. “A lot has been done, but clearly there is a lot of work to be taken care of before we welcome the world two years from now.”

Eppenger said a special representation of Vulcan is being developed to be the mascot. Mackovets said that design should be complete and unveiled to the public this fall.

History of The World Games*

  • 1981 – Santa Clara, California, was the host city for the first World Games. The United States won more medals than any other country.
  • 1985 – The host city for the second World Games was London, Great Britain. Italy led all countries in total medals and gold medals won.
  • 1989 – Karlsruhe, Germany, hosted the next World Games. Once again, Italy led all countries in medals won.
  • 1993 – The Hague, Netherlands, was the next host city. Germany was awarded more medals than any other country.
  • 1997 – Lahti, Finland, hosted the World Games. The United States led in the number of medals won for this World Games.
  • 2001 – Akita, Japan, was the host for the World Games. Russia was awarded more medals than any other country.
  • 2005 – Duisburg, Germany, hosted the World Games. Russia and Germany led all countries in medals won, but Russia won more gold medals.
  • 2009 – Kaohsiung of Chinese Taipei was the next host. Once again, Russia was the leader in medals won.
  • 2013 – The next World Games was hosted in Cali, Colombia. This was the first time the games were held in South America. Russia won the most medals again in these World Games.
  • 2017 – These World Games were hosted in Wroclaw, Poland. More than 3,200 athletes competed in 31 sports, from 111 different countries.
  • 2021 – Birmingham, Alabama will host the 2021 World Games. The Opening Ceremony is July 15 and competition begins the next day.

*According to: theworldgames.org

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Teaching teachers Alabama’s civil rights stories

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

How do you surprise history teachers who don’t live in Alabama? Bring them to the state for three weeks to discover what their education didn’t teach them about the civil rights movement.

“For me the surprising thing was how many people were involved in the movement that I just didn’t know about,” said Kevin Mears, a 10th grade U.S. history teacher from Brooklyn, New York. “You know Rosa Parks, you know Martin Luther King Jr., you know Malcolm X, you know some of the big names, but to take their stories a little bit farther and go deeper into their stories — like, I didn’t know Rosa Parks was a lifelong activist for human rights and civil rights before and after the bus movement. That was really powerful for me. To be in the places where it happened — going to King’s parsonage and being in the room where SCLC was started was overwhelming.”

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Mears was among 71 teachers who came to Alabama this summer as part of the Stony the Road We Trod Institute, a three-week workshop presented in partnership with the Alabama Humanities Foundation exploring Alabama’s civil rights legacy. The teachers visited civil rights landmarks around Alabama, including stops in Selma, Montgomery, Tuskegee and Birmingham. Martha Bouyer, executive director of the Historic Bethel Baptist Church Foundation and director of the workshop, said it started years ago as a one-week workshop but expanded to three weeks a few years ago.

“The teachers always said they needed more time, so what I decided to do was to take my one-week project and expand it,” Bouyer said. “Now the program is being offered as a three-week institute, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I’ve had international teachers to come from the U.S. State Department. They’ve sent teachers from emerging democracies, and I’ve had people from places like Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South Africa and Colombia.”

Bouyer said the goal of the workshop is for these teachers to change how this history is taught.

“I want them to go back and let their students know the power of the individual in history,” Bouyer said. “We generally hear Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., but get kids to interview their grandparents or somebody in the community. Go to the nursing home. We’re lifting up names and contributions, however small it may appear to be, but I want them to do that. My goal is for this investment to forever change how we teach this history.”

Teachers explore Alabama’s civil rights legacy from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Anna Osborne, a kindergarten teacher from Alderson, West Virginia, said visiting places like the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery will change the way she teaches.

“I will go back to my classroom changed with a deeper understanding of the truth of this part of history,” Osborne said. “They might not get to come here but if they are able to see my pictures and hear my first-hand account, then I think it humanizes it for them a little.”

William Frazier, a ninth grade world history teacher from Laurel, Mississippi, said his biggest challenge will be convincing his students what he’s seen is true.

“We’re in a trying time now where kids think, ‘if I didn’t see it, then it didn’t happen,’ so I have to make it real to them and relevant to them,” Frazier said. “This is a way to do it. These things really happened. None of this is fake.”

Andraya James, a second grade teacher from Dallas, Texas, said she was surprised how much her visit to the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute affected her.

“What I’ve seen in Birmingham has had the most impact on me,” James said. “The whole experience has been awesome.”

James said she’s eager to take what she’s learned back to her students.

“I will take it back and let them know that civil rights did not begin with one person and did not end with one person,” James said. “There are many unsung heroes within the movement. Everyone has a hand in it, even if you’re not at the forefront making the speeches, you can still add your 2 cents and be effective.”

To learn more about this workshop, visit stonytheroad.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Children’s of Alabama patients paint car from Talladega Superspeedway

A patient at Children's of Alabama paints a race car from Talladega Superspeedway outside the hospital Friday morning. (Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Some of the patients at Children’s of Alabama got a special treat Friday morning: painting a race car from Talladega Superspeedway.

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The track brought a white race car to the hospital Friday morning. Patients used paint brushes and markers to decorate the car and sign it.

“This is just something fun for the kids at Children’s of Alabama to be out here and paint the car and just bring a smile to their face,” said Alyson Thompson, Public Relations coordinator for Talladega Superspeedway. “It’s something cool for us to bring a little bit of the race track to Children’s of Alabama.”

“It’s been a great way for them to get out of their rooms,” Caroline Wilson, Community Development coordinator for Children’s of Alabama added. “This is such a fun Friday for them — an unexpected activity they got to do, it just brightens their day a little bit while they are here.”

Thompson said the car will be on display in the track’s new Talladega Garage Experience prior to the 1000Bulbs.com 500 on Oct. 13.

“Kids get to take the wheel and choose six pre-race activities on Sunday morning,” Thompson said. “Children’s of Alabama has been a great partner with us for our new Kids VIP Experience program. It’s just a joyous time for them to get out and do something fun.”

To learn more about the Kids VIP Experience presented by Children’s of Alabama, visit talladegasuperspeedway.com.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Auburn football players hungry for wins

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Don’t be surprised to see some Auburn football players practicing at 2 a.m. this summer. Defensive end Marlon Davidson has already seen it from some of his defensive teammates.

“They’ll wake up at 2 a.m. to go get some work, and I’ll be like, ‘Man, 2:00 in the morning? What are you doing work for?’ They’re hungry for success this year.”

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Auburn Tigers hungry for better season from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

This football team believes it will improve on its 8-5 record from last year, a season that began with high expectations which fell apart late in the season. Davidson still remembers the last-second loss to LSU.

“I was sick. We have a picture of how close we were to blocking the field goal. That tells me that you have to fight to end of the game.”

Davidson and his teammates are determined to be better this year.

“You’ve got to win the spring, and then you’ve got to win the summer, and then you’ve got to win the fall,” said offensive lineman Prince Tega Wanogho. “This team is planning to start strong.”

Wanogho said practices feel different now that head coach Gus Malzahn has taken back control of offensive play-calling.

“You can just tell going through practice, he’s more relaxed and himself,” Wanogho said. “He’s going around giving fist bumps.”

Wanogho said the defense is also doing their part in making him and his offensive linemen better.

“We are training against the best and they make you the best.”

Defensive tackle Derrick Brown said the goal is simple: play for a national championship.

“For anyone to sit here and say they don’t want to go to a national championship, they’re lying,” Brown said. “Everyone wants to be in that four-game playoff.”

Brown said achieving that goal requires one step at a time.

“The biggest challenge is for us to go out each week and, as coach always says, ‘be where your feet are,’” Brown said. “Even if they say you are No. 1, you still have to have that blue collar mentality. You got to look at it like you’re at the bottom and progress every week.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Crimson Tide’s Tua Tagovailoa appreciates Clemson loss

(Bruce Nix/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa says that losing the national championship game to Clemson in January was good for the team.

“I know this sounds weird, but it was good that we lost because what can you learn if you keep winning? You can’t learn as much.”

Tagovailoa spoke to reporters Wednesday at SEC Football Media Days in Hoover, six months after Clemson defeated Alabama 44-16. Tagovailoa said the loss was a good experience for the Crimson Tide.

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“Winning is something that you don’t take for granted now,” Tagovailoa said. “How we are doing things now and going with this is how we take ownership over our team.”

Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa ready for 2019 season from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Tagovailoa was one of three players who joined Alabama coach Nick Saban at Media Days. Saban said Tagovailoa has some room to improve this year, despite having a very successful season last year.

“Towards the end of the season we turned the ball over a little bit more offensively than what we had in the first half of the season,” Saban said. “I’m sure he wants to make sure the decision-making that led to some of those things are something he can improve on.”

Tagovailoa said he’s spent a majority of the off-season in the training room. He praised Saban for pushing him to get better.

“He’s really hard on you, and there’s not too many people like that, but I think you need someone like that in pretty much every organization to set the standard and get everyone straight.”

Tagovailoa also praised his teammates for helping him shine.

“It wouldn’t be possible without the guys I’m surrounded by,” Tagovailoa said. “That’s the only reason it’s possible for me to be sitting up here in front of you guys.”

One of those players is Jerry Jeudy, a wide receiver for the Crimson Tide. Jeudy says Tagovailoa is the best quarterback in the country and is excited about strengthening their bond this fall.

“He had a great season last year and I’m excited to see what he will do this year, too,” Jeudy said. “There’s a lot of stuff we need to work on: new plays that we need to figure out, the details and fundamentals of those plays, stuff like that that we need to focus on as a receiver group and as an offense.”

Tagovailoa said the wide receivers are a key to the success of the offense.

“They’re not selfish, they’re selfless,” Tagovailoa said. “They will run as many brotherhood routes as they can to get someone else open. That’s been the key to their success and that’s been the key to our success offensively.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Why college football is so popular in the South

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

As college football prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday, answer this question: Why is this sport more popular in the southern United States than anywhere else in the country?

Three Southeastern Conference football legends offered their opinions Tuesday during the conference’s annual SEC Football Media Days in Hoover. Archie Manning says the answer to that question begins in high school.

“High school football is fantastic in the South,” Manning said. “We also have high school coaches that stay with it for their career. I admire that fraternity. Those men don’t coach high school football for the money. They do it because they love what they do.”

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Manning also credits warmer weather, a fact Steve Spurrier says encouraged him to play and coach at Florida.

“I visited in late March when it was 72 in Gainesville and 32 in Johnson City, Tennessee,” Spurrier said. “All I know is I was blessed to go there.”

Herschel Walker says the SEC’s strong football programs help draw fans and players.

“The SEC stands with a lot of power,” Walker said. “People know when you’re going to play a team from the SEC — I don’t care who it is, you better bring more than your lunch because it’s going to be a tough game. Guys are going to play extremely hard.”

Why college football is more popular in the South from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

A number of events celebrating 150 years of college football are scheduled this fall at schools throughout the conference and around the country. In addition, ESPN will be airing “Saturdays in the South,” an eight-part documentary series chronicling the birth and growth of college football in the South.

“You will hear stories of greased railroad tracks, an era before the SEC chant was ever heard, and weave tales through the decades of the modern area of success experienced now by the Southeastern Conference,”  SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said.

Walker shared his own story of how he used a coin flip to choose between a career in the military or college.

“One Sunday in April, my mom asked me, ‘Don’t you think it’s time for you decide what you’re going to do?’ and before she could say anything, she said, ‘If your mind and your heart is pure of the Lord Jesus, it doesn’t really matter of your decision.’ So I decided to flip a coin. It landed on college. I then flipped a coin between Clemson and Georgia, and it landed on Georgia. I wanted to go to USC out in California, so I flipped a coin between those two schools, and it landed on Georgia again. I then pulled the names out of a bag, and I pulled Georgia, and that’s how I ended up at Georgia.”

“Sometimes when you’re naive and stupid, God will take care of you, because that was the right decision,” Walker added.

Why Herschel Walker used a coin flip to decide his plans after high school from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

He also praised a decision by Georgia to name its football field after Vince Dooley.

“He deserves it because he built men,” Walker said. “To name the field after him, I’m happy to be a part of it.”

All three men say they are honored to remain active in college football activities and discussions about the sport.

“I love the college game,” said Manning, who played quarterback at Ole Miss. “I’ve been involved in the National Football Foundation. I love that involvement. We stay close to the game and try to develop leaders through the game. I’ve certainly enjoyed that.”

“There’s something about football,” Spurrier added. “When you only have one game a year, you have bragging rights for the whole year if you win. There’s always a lot riding on the outcome, and it’s benefited all of us up here.”

“To be a part of anything that’s been around 150 years, you’ve got to be honored,” Walker said. “In today’s world, everyone wants to erase history, (which) I think is a shame. For me to be a part of something that’s 150 years old is incredible.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Talladega Superspeedway renovations ahead of schedule

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Construction of a new infield fan zone and garages at Talladega Superspeedway is ahead of schedule.

Track officials and construction supervisors gave members of the media a tour of the infield Wednesday, which included a ceremony with crews setting the final steel beam of the new 35,000-square-foot Open Air Club. Gary Merriman, senior superintendent for Hoar Construction, rewarded his crew with the opportunity to sign the steel beam before it was set.

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“They’ve all worked very hard,” Merriman said. “We’re blessed to grow up in an environment where we all love racing and where we all love what goes on here at Talladega. It was a neat experience for each and every one of us to be here to construct this.”

Phase 2 of Talladega Superspeedway renovations ahead of schedule from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The construction is part of the track’s $50 million “Transformation” as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. The centerpiece of the project is the Talladega Garage Experience, a place where fans can interact with NASCAR’S top drivers and crews. Fans who buy admission to the Talladega Garage Experience will receive access inside all of the Monster Energy Cup Series garages via an “up-close” fan viewing walkway and will be under the same roof where race teams are prepping the race cars. Russell Branham, director of Public Relations for Talladega Superspeedway, applauded Merriman and his crew for getting the project ahead of schedule.

“I think they’ve done an incredible job,” Branham said. “It’s only appropriate that at the fastest race track we have the fastest construction team.”

Merriman said crews have worked extra hours to keep the project on track.

“We come in at 1:30 in the morning on slab pours,” Merriman said. “Certain concrete pours have to take place in the coolness of the early morning, so there are some 16-hour days.”

The track is also building a new Race Operations tower high above the tri-oval, as well as a new Pit Road Club for guests who want a bird’s-eye view of team pit stops. Merriman said the project is currently 40% complete and is scheduled to be finished by Sept. 20, well in advance of the track’s next NASCAR race in October. Branham said the construction is exciting.

“To be here and to be a part of all of this, I feel like a kid again,” Branham said. “Knowing what this is going to mean for the fans, it really takes me back to when I was a kid.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

The Sunflower Field draws thousands to small Alabama town

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

If you see an unusual number of cars on Highway 14 in Autaugaville in July, especially several with out-of-state plates, there’s a good chance they’re headed to The Sunflower Field.

“There was a lady that come yesterday from Tampa, Florida,” said Todd Sheridan, owner of The Sunflower Field. “She said, ‘I’ve read so much about it, I just had to come for myself.’”

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Sheridan’s farm has become a tourist destination in July thanks to the 500,000 sunflowers he plants on 25 acres. This year he split the plantings by two weeks so that the blooms would be spread out over the entire month of July.

“The most difficult thing is to get them to come up out of the ground,” Sheridan said. “Once you get them up, it’s not too difficult.”

The Sunflower Field brings thousands of smiles to Autaugaville from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

This is Sheridan’s fifth year planting sunflowers, but only his fourth year making them available for public viewing and picking.

“It got started growing grain for a company that was going to crush oil out of it,” Sheridan said. “They were on a major highway so I knew there was going to be people wanting to take pictures, so I left some gates open, and then some guy took a picture and sent it to a news station, and some guy comes down and takes a video, and one thing led to another, and here we are. It’s turned into an event.”

Sheridan said he’s had to quit his job for a month each summer to focus full time on the sunflowers.

“I don’t know if I’ve been able to take it all in yet,” Sheridan said. “Every year it gets more and more, but that’s OK. We’re enjoying it.”

The farm is located at 3301 Highway 14 W. in Autaugaville. It is open from daylight until dark daily as long as the blooms last. No pets are allowed. Professional photographers are welcome, but there is a $20 per session charge for use of the field.

Sunflower blooms are available for purchase. Individual flowers are $1 each, or you can purchase a souvenir bucket for $10 to take home as many flowers as you can fit in the bucket. Flowers in grow bags are also available for purchase at $3 each, 2 for $5 or 5 for $10.

For more information, contact them on Facebook at The Sunflower Field.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Team effort helping downtown Alexander City grow

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Downtown Alexander City is growing, and not by accident.

“We are probably 90% occupied downtown and actually have some businesses opening soon,” said Stacey Jeffcoat, executive director of Main Street Alexander City. “Our downtown is revitalizing and growing.”

Jeffcoat leads the nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and revitalizing the city’s historic downtown. She took the reins in January after working with two other nonprofits: the Lake Martin Area Boys and Girls Club and Lake Martin Area United Way, as well as Flint Hill United Methodist Church.

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“I absolutely love it,” Jeffcoat said. “We have friendly people, great schools, beautiful Lake Martin — it’s quaint, we have amenities, but it’s still that small town feel where everybody knows everybody and takes care of everybody.”

Main Street Alexander City leading downtown growth effort from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Jeffcoat is proud of the joint effort between city, county, school and business leaders to move the city forward through projects such as developing Strand Park into a plaza for people to congregate.

“It takes all of us,” Jeffcoat said. “We’re getting ready to start a branding scope so the city, the chamber, our tourism, Main Street, Russell Lands and our school system are all coming together so we can have a cohesive look for Alexander City. We’re excited.”

One of their biggest challenges is convincing businesses and shoppers to look downtown instead of the busy U.S. Highway 280 corridor a few miles away. Jeffcoat said they plan to install more signs on Highway 280 to encourage downtown shopping.

“We’re just trying to encourage people to get off of 280 and come explore and see what we have,” Jeffcoat said. “Downtown is the heart of everything. There’s some charm in being downtown.”

Jeffcoat said the city’s close proximity to Lake Martin helps recruit businesses and shoppers.

“When people come, they’re looking for shopping, for items for their homes,” Jeffcoat said. “We have such unique shops that you can’t find the merchandise anywhere else. You can just walk and look and slow down and enjoy life here.”

To learn more about Main Street Alexander City, visit mainstreetalexandercity.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Rainbow Omega opens new garden center

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

People between Talladega and Anniston have a new option for buying plants and fresh vegetables.

The Rainbow Garden Center opened its doors last week at Rainbow Omega in Eastaboga. A ribbon-cutting Friday was followed by a grand opening festival Saturday.

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“Rainbow Omega has always had greenhouses and growing houses ever since I came to work here 11 years ago, but we never had a way to market that product other than in a wholesale fashion,” said Mike Carpenter, director of Development for Rainbow Omega. “We’d always dreamed of having our own retail center, growing and selling the product, and marketing what the residents are involved with every day. It’s been a long time coming.”

Rainbow Omega was founded in 1991 to give adults with developmental disabilities a sheltered, Christian community in which to live. Capable residents work in the greenhouses and the garden center.

“When someone comes here to purchase what we have, that money is going directly back into the program to help support the needs of the special individuals that live here,” Carpenter said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and ALFA helped fund construction of the garden center, which will also help local business owners.

“In working with ALFA and the USDA, we wanted to incorporate other folks in the rural communities around us who are in the same process of wanting to find a way to retail their product,” Carpenter said. “We’re using that model to help grow the Eastaboga community.”

During spring and summer, the garden center will mostly feature annuals, including ferns, geraniums and bedding plants. The fall months will include thousands of mums, pansies and snapdragons, and the winter months will include up to 7,000 poinsettias for sale. Carpenter said the smaller size of their operation gives Rainbow Omega more flexibility than larger nurseries.

“We wanted to do something more specified to the needs of the people that we live around,” Carpenter said. “A lot of times we can grow things other large nurseries can’t and be specific to a customer’s needs.”

Carpenter hopes to add more products to the garden center, especially items created in Alabama.

“I like that because you’re supporting the community,” Carpenter said.

During the busy spring and summer, Carpenter said the garden center will be open six days a week: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. During the fall, the garden center will be closed on Mondays.

For more information, visit RainbowOmega.org or follow Rainbow Omega on Facebook.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama leads effort to reduce youth sports injuries

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A group of athletes, doctors and public health professionals from Alabama are leading a national effort to reduce sports injuries among youths.

That group, called the CoachSafely Foundation, hosted a panel discussion Friday at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham to discuss better ways to train youth coaches how to prevent and recognize sports injuries such as concussions, heat-related illnesses and overuse injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the rise of concussions in youth sports an epidemic, which was echoed by Orthopedic Surgeon & Sports Medicine Specialist Dr. James Andrews.

“There’s been a tenfold increase since the year 2000 in injuries in youth sports, and these are not just minor injuries — these are what we call adult sports injuries that used to only occur in college and professional athletes,” Andrews said.

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Andrews referenced a 2014 report conducted by Safe Kids Worldwide, which said:

  • 1.24 million children were seen in emergency rooms for sports injuries in 2013
  • 90 percent of athletes said they have been injured while playing a sport
  • 54 percent said they had played injured
  • Less than 50 percent of coaches said they have received certification on how to prevent and recognize sports injuries.

Margaret White, Public Relations director at Alabama Power, is one of those who played injured in high school and was later treated by Andrews. She told her story to the group Friday because she wants to see a bigger support system for youth athletes.

“It’s not just engaged parents, but it’s knowledgeable coaches, doctors, community leaders — certainly not the desires of stubborn, short-sighted young athletes,” White said.

Drew Ferguson, president of the CoachSafely Foundation and a director at Children’s of Alabama, said the group is committed to carrying this message nationally.

“We’ve got the nation’s attention by some of the people who are here today,” Ferguson said. “This foundation is going to give us a tremendous opportunity to create a standard of care both here in Alabama and throughout the country.”

Wayne Moss, executive director of the National Council of Youth Sports, said he was “blown away” when he first learned about the work of the CoachSafely Foundation.

“I don’t think the people outside of these doors really know what’s going on,” Moss said. “I don’t think they get something miraculous has happened here. There will be a day that we look back and see that youth safety started in Alabama.”

Other panelists echoed the importance of the work.

“When I got the call about CoachSafely, it’s a no-brainer,” said Izell Reese, executive director of NFL Flag Football. “Youth safety in youth sports is just as important as a background check.”

“We want to be a part of this because these kids are what will feed into our middle schools and high schools,” said Alvin Briggs, associate executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association. “If they’re not taught right, then what do we have when they get to our programs?”

“We as Park and Rec professionals want to lead and we want to be difference makers as we move forward,” said Natalie Norman, executive director of the Alabama Recreation and Parks Association.

One panel participant who can speak from a position of success is Jimmy Robinson, the University of Alabama football team doctor.

“I live at the other extreme of what we’re trying to get going here: I live in the utopia,” Robinson said. “I’ve got all these resources around me and the ability to help talk care of our athletes at the highest level. At the coach safely level, at the youth sports level, it’s just the opposite, and that’s one thing we need to do. Preparedness and prevention is the key.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

World’s largest collection of Ford Mustangs in Alabama

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Bob Powell and his family love Ford Mustangs.

“I’ve always been a car enthusiast and got attached to Ford Mustangs several years ago. Our collection goes back over 30 years.”

Their love for this iconic vehicle got more serious four years ago when he and his sons decided to open a museum.

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“We want to preserve Mustangs. We don’t want them to go to the junkyard.”

Mustang Museum of America preserves iconic history from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

So he and his family started a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, educating and celebrating the life of the Mustang. The result of their hard work is the Mustang Museum of America, a more than 30,000-square-foot building in Odenville currently housing 99 Ford Mustangs produced over five decades.

“We want to preserve the history and by walking through the museum you can follow from the first year production all the way through 2015, see how they changed.”

Since opening in March 2019, Powell says the museum has had visitors from Germany, France, Mexico and Australia.

“They were all very impressed,” Powell said. “There are some other museums around that have Mustangs in them, but to have 99 Mustangs under one roof is unique.”

To learn more about the Mustang Museum of America, including hours of operation and admission prices, visit the website at mustangmuseumofamerica.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Nick Saban talks Nick’s kids, retirement odds, stadium renovations and more

Nick Saban speaks to the media at the Nick's Kids Golf Tournament June 6. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama football coach Nick Saban laughed off retirement plans, discussed the amateurism of college sports and talked about the renovation plans of Bryant-Denny Stadium Thursday.

Saban spoke to reporters at the 13th Annual Nick’s Kids Golf Tournament at Birmingham’s Old Overton Club.

“We’re really excited about being here,” Saban said. “The Nick’s Kids (Foundation) is all about my dad’s legacy of trying to give back to young people and help them to have an opportunity to be successful in life and also to honor the people who help the young people. We’ve had a lot of great supporters throughout the years. We certainly appreciate their support and what they’ve done to help us be able to help others. I don’t get to see these folks that often, so this is a day that we look forward to. I actually stand on one hole and play one hole with everybody, so I get to renew some of those acquaintances. Their relationship is valued by Miss Terry and I both.”

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Saban says the foundation has given out well over $8 million since he and his wife, Terry, arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007.

“I raise it, and she spends it,” Saban said.

Saban was on the golf course despite having had hip surgery in April. He admitted doctors still won’t allow him to swing his driver or 3-wood, but he can use anything from a 5-iron up. He said he can do the things he needs to without a great risk of injuring his hip.

“I think it will still take a few weeks of strengthening to get back to normal,” he said.

Saban said surgery recovery has made it clear that he is not ready to stop working, which is why he chuckles at those who are literally betting on his retirement date (the over-under is apparently 5.5 years).

“That’s the first I’ve heard of that one, but it’s amusing,” he said. “After the six hours I spent at home in the chair after I got home from the hospital, I was outside walking around in the yard, and I think Miss Terry was ready to call the police on me if I didn’t get back in the house, so that’s not something that I enjoy and that’s not something I really want to do anytime soon. I just enjoy being part of the team, the relationships – to have Julio Jones come back the first two days I was doing my rehab on my hip, he was there with me doing it. Tua came in yesterday while I was doing rehab and gave me a medical examination, so some of these things are really special, so no time soon. I don’t know what Vegas knows that I don’t know.”

(Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Saban also talked about what proposed stadium renovations reveal about the football program at Alabama.

“I think it speaks volumes to a commitment to a standard of excellence that the University, the athletic department has to continue to be our best,” he said. “If you stand pat and everybody else is chasing you and what you do, they’re eventually going to catch you. To be aggressive in trying to make improvements is really important.”

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Student-powered produce stand opens at Birmingham’s Woodlawn High School

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

People living in east Birmingham now have a new place to buy fresh fruits and vegetables: their nearby high school.

The Farm Stand opened Thursday afternoon at Woodlawn High School. Operated by students, the Farm Stand gives neighbors a place to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables grown at the school in conjunction with the city’s Jones Valley Teaching Farm program. Amanda Storey, executive director of the Jones Valley Teaching Farm, says the Farm Stand was made possible through a grant from Gov. Kay Ivey as part of the Alabama Healthy Food Financing Act.

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“It gives our students a chance to connect with our neighbors and also be able to provide a service to their neighborhood,” Storey said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

The Farm Stand is in a part of Birmingham the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a “food desert,” which is an area without easy access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Josh Carpenter, director of Economic Development for the city of Birmingham, says the Farm Stand solves that problem and helps students.

“Woodlawn is a great proof-point of what is possible when we really dedicate resources and time to this type of engagement,” Carpenter said. “Some of these students are thinking not just about how to grow vegetables, but then, ‘What does the irrigation system look like?’ and they’re conceptualizing their own careers as plumbers and electricians. That type of development comes foundationally through these types of experiential work-based learning, so they’ve really laid the groundwork for apprenticeships in the city.”

The Jones Valley Teaching Farm operates seven farms throughout Birmingham, engaging more than 4,500 students from pre-K through high school in a hands-on, food-based education model. Storey says the program helps students grow life skills.

“One of the biggest pieces that you learn when running a farm is that seeds take a long time to grow,” Storey said. “We’re all so used to instant gratification, the process of growing food is something that really instills leadership and patience and all of these life skills that are so important for young people. Being able to be front and center in leading a project, when you’re in high school, I think is so important for student growth and for life growth.”

The Farm Stand is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3:00-5:30 p.m. For more information, visit the Jones Valley Teaching Farm online at jvtf.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter)

4 months ago

Construction begins on new fan garage experience at Talladega Superspeedway

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Construction of a new infield garage and VIP fan experience began Monday as Talladega Superspeedway resumed its $50 million Transformation renovation project.

Legendary NASCAR driver Bobby Allison helped begin demolition of the track’s “Victory Lane” Monday morning, an area that will be moved and upgraded this summer into a new area called the “Talladega Garage Experience.”

“I’ve been back through here under good circumstances a few times,” Allison told reporters. “To come back here and do these upgrades at one of the greatest racetracks in the world, it’s pretty special to me.”

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When completed, fans inside the Talladega Garage Experience will have:

“Locker room” access to NASCAR’s top 22 drivers and crews inside a new infield garage bay.

An Open Air Social Club featuring a bar, a large 41-foot diagonal video screen, lounge chairs and tables.

A Celebration Plaza featuring victory lane.

A Watch Zone featuring a 40-by-80-foot video board, a Kids Zone, a beer garden and plenty of seating.

Free WiFi.

Enhanced concession stands, restroom complexes and guest services.

The Talladega Garage Experience is the second and final phase of the track’s Transformation project, celebrating the track’s 50th anniversary. A new Finish Line Premium RV area, infield shower trailers and a new, oversized two-lane vehicle tunnel were built in the first phase, which was completed last week.

Admissions to the VIP fan experience for the fall race are on sale. Advance-priced admissions are $89 for adults for Sunday, Oct. 13, in the Talladega Garage Experience. There are also special advance-priced offers for the Talladega Garage Experience for children 12 and younger ($39 for Sunday), military members and first responders ($60 for Sunday). Full weekend options are available as well. Each Talladega Garage Experience pass must accompany a grandstand or infield admission ticket for that day’s on-track event.

For more information on the Transformation project or access to the Talladega Garage Experience, visit talladegasuperspeedway.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter)

4 months ago

Alabama’s Literary Capital honors authors with new sculpture trail

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A new collection of bronze sculptures in downtown Monroeville celebrates some of our country’s most famous writers whose roots originate in this historical area of southwest Alabama.

The Literary Capital Sculpture Trail unveiled Friday afternoon features 14 bronze sculptures created by University of Alabama sculpture students that are on display within a short walk of each other around the Monroe County Courthouse Museum.

“We have a legacy here and we want people to know what that is,” said Anne Marie Bryan, executive director of Monroeville Main Street. “These sculptures honor the 10 authors who made Monroeville and Monroe County Alabama’s Literary Capital.”

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The trail honors 10 writers from Monroeville: Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Cynthia Tucker, Mark Childress, Marva Collins, Rheta Grimsley-Johnson, Riley Kelly, Mike Stewart, William Barret Travis and Hank Williams. Of those 10, three won Pulitzer Prizes: Harper Lee, Cynthia Tucker and Hank Williams. Bryan said the exhibit was created to provide arts and culture for the community, something of interest for tourists and to inspire and educate the children of Monroe County.

“We wanted to provide that inspiration that you can be a poet, a journalist, a novelist, a short story writer or even an artist and follow a creative passion,” she said.

The trail unveiling was planned to coincide with the Alabama Bicentennial celebration and this year’s Alabama Writers Symposium, which was held Thursday and Friday in Monroeville. Alisha Linam, director of the symposium, said the goal is to celebrate Alabama’s writers.

“Our names are known throughout the world,” Linam said. “We’re known for creating and developing good authors.”

Several of those Alabama authors were honored at this year’s symposium, including Daniel Wallace and B.J. Hollars. Wallace, author of five novels — including “Big Fish,” which was later made into a motion picture and a musical on Broadway — was honored with the 2019 Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer, while Hollars, author of several books, including “The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders,” was awarded the 2019 Truman Capote Prize for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of Literary Non-Fiction or the Short Story.

“I’m kind of speechless,” Wallace said. “Because I’m an Alabama writer, this is the best possible recognition I could get.”

Hollars called his award “an incredible honor. It is so humbling. I feel like a kid in a candy store.”

Both men applauded the efforts to celebrate Monroe County’s rich literary heritage with the new trail.

“Literature has a two-pronged effect: it’s just entertainment on the one hand, but on the other hand it really does create better people,” Wallace said. “It really does create a more empathetic and imaginative populace. It would be my hope that this would bring more people to the books of all of the great writers in this state.”

Hollars said it’s nice to visit Monroeville, where reading and literature is valued so deeply.

“You can’t go 20 feet without seeing a placard about a writer or see a statue of a child reading a book or a mural from the book,” he said. “I hope the rest of the nation can take a cue from Monroeville and know that our books are our history and our future, too.”

For more information about the Sculpture Trail, contact Monroeville Main Street by visiting monroevillemainstreet.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter)

4 months ago

Talladega Superspeedway’s new oversized tunnel opens

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

For the first time in the history of the Talladega Superspeedway, drivers and fans can now enter and leave the infield at any time they choose — even during a race.

“For the race teams and, more importantly, our infield guests, they are no longer ‘captured’ in here,” said Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch.

Lynch cut the ribbon on the tunnel Wednesday morning with the help of drivers Jeffrey Earnhardt and Chase Briscoe, as well as Lance Taylor from Taylor Corporation, which managed the construction. They then waved to the first group of fans who entered the track’s infield through the new tunnel.

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“I guess it’s ironic that the biggest infield in motorsports is the last one to get a full-sized tunnel, but we’ve got it and it’s here now,” Lynch said. “You saw the fans, how much they were enjoying coming through it.”

In previous years, large vehicles such as RV’s and car haulers could exit the infield only when the track was not in use. Drivers are excited about the improved access.

“I think it’s incredible,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve been in the situation where I might be in the XFinity race and you’ve got to wake up at the crack of dawn Sunday to get out before they close the gate before the Cup race.”

“It makes it way more convenient,” Briscoe added. “Not only for the teams, but also for the race fans.”

The completion of the tunnel marks the end of the first phase of a $50 million “Transformation” renovation project at the track. A new premium RV area and shower trailers were also added to the infield this spring.

“We’re changing the game again,” Lynch said. “We’re ratcheting the greatest infield in motorsports up another notch or two.”

As soon as Sunday’s GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is over, work will begin on the second phase of the project, which will feature a VIP “Talladega Garage Experience” where fans can interact with the top 22 drivers inside of a new open-air arena.

“What we’re going to build is going to be — no one is ever going to do it again because no one has as much land as we have,” Lynch said.

Earnhardt and Briscoe said they are excited about the opportunity to interact more closely with fans.

“If we don’t take the time to spend with the fans, then why would they want to come back?” Earnhardt said. “They’re spending a lot of hard-earned money they’ve made to come out and support us and watch us race, and enjoy the experience at the race track, so Talladega adding this is only going to improve the experience the fans have when they come here.”

“If we don’t have these fans, we don’t have a job,” Briscoe added. “With Talladega doing all of these renovations, I think there’s going to be more and more fans coming out than there’s ever been.”

Both drivers said one of their favorite new features coming this fall in the VIP Garage area will be WiFi.

“The WiFi is huge,” Earnhardt said. “You come to the race track and you can’t get a text to go out, you can’t a post to go up, and now they’re going to have WiFi in the Fan Zone, and that’s going to make people look through their friends’ posts and be like, ‘Man, they’re having a great time. I’m going the next time.’ I think that’s the kind of things a lot of these tracks are seeing they’ve got to do.”

“Talladega is already the best fan experience,” Briscoe said. “When you come here, you can hang out. It’s just a good time, and now, for all of the improvements we are seeing, it’s just going to make it even better. I’m looking forward to coming back in the fall and seeing the complete renovation.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Egg drop contest at Vulcan makes science fun

(D. Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

How do you drop an egg from a perch more than 100 feet high without breaking it?

Hundreds of students from around the Birmingham area put their theories to the test during an egg drop contest at Vulcan Park and Museum in Birmingham. The contest was organized by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Engineering.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Lizzie Ryan, a senior in mechanical engineering at UAB. “And then seeing the ones that actually make it, it’s super awesome.”

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Elementary, middle and high school students were asked to design devices that would protect a raw egg from breaking when dropped from the perch atop the Vulcan Park statue’s pedestal. Ryan said of the first five that dropped, four of them survived.

“They are screaming, ‘Drop it! drop it!’ for every egg. It’s a lot of fun.”

Zoë Penko, president of the UAB Society of Women Engineers, says the goal of the contest is to inspire students to consider science, engineering and mathematics as possible career options.

“Students will attempt to achieve what seems impossible — dropping raw eggs from the top of the Vulcan without breaking them,” said Penko, who is also president of the UAB American Society of Mechanical Engineers. “We want to encourage engineering education and inspiration in our next generation of engineers.”

If you want to compete in next year’s egg drop competition, Ryan has two pieces of advice.

“Start early and then just make it fun.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

New tunnel opens at Talladega Superspeedway

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

A new, larger tunnel opened Tuesday underneath Talladega Superspeedway, giving fans and crews the ability to enter and exit the infield at any time before, during or after a race.

NASCAR driver Jeffrey Earnhardt, the grandson of racing legend Dale Earnhardt, officially opened the tunnel. He rode through it inside John Ray’s iconic big rig, which has carried an American flag around the track for every race since 2001.

“Anytime I get to participate in anything here at Talladega, it’s guaranteed fun,” Earnhardt said.

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The new tunnel in turn three is 28 feet wide and more than 16 feet tall, enough clearance for two RVs or two car haulers to move through the tunnel simultaneously. Without this tunnel, oversized vehicles could only enter or exit the infield across the track when it was not in use because the tunnel in turn four is not big enough.

Track Chairman Grant Lynch praised Taylor Corporation for staying on schedule despite the wet winter.

“They (Taylor Corporation) worked 11 straight days over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, 24 hours a day, and they did that to get a jump start on the project, and I would say if you hadn’t have done that, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Taylor Corporation President Lance Taylor praised his crew for getting the work done on schedule.

“It was a team of us out there getting that done,” Taylor said. “We fought that thing from the first week.”

The new tunnel weighs about 3.2 million pounds. It sits on a 4-foot-thick layer of concrete. A special pump system is in place to keep groundwater from flooding the tunnel.

Taylor said his crews are now focused on repaving the section of the track cut open for the tunnel. The first of three layers of a special mix of asphalt has already been paved. Taylor said his team is working extremely hard to make sure the track will be smooth and safe for racing.

“Before we took the track out, we took a laser scan image — over a million shots of the track. We built a computer image of exactly what was there so when we back-filled the tunnel going back up, we knew the specifications to eliminate the settlement that can cause dips,” Taylor said. “When these guys are running across it at 200 miles per hour, we don’t want them to feel anything.”

The tunnel is the first of several projects happening this year as the track celebrates its 50th anniversary. A new Finish Line Premium RV area and infield shower trailers are scheduled to be complete in time for next month’s NASCAR race. After that race, a VIP “Talladega Garage Experience” will be constructed in the infield for fans to interact with drivers and crews. Fans inside the Talladega Garage Experience will have:

  • “Locker room” access to NASCAR’s top drivers and crews inside a new infield garage bay.
  • Open Air Social Club featuring a bar, a large 41-foot diagonal video screen, lounge chairs and tables.
  • Celebration Plaza featuring victory lane.
  • Watch Zone featuring a 40-foot-by-80-foot video board, a Kids Zone, a beer garden and plenty of seating.
  • Free Wi-Fi.
  • Enhanced concession stands, restroom complexes and guest services.

The Talladega Garage Experience is scheduled to be built before the October race. Earnhardt said he’s most excited about the Wi-Fi.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve been at the track and you just can’t get nothing to go out,” Earnhardt said. “Now y’all can tweet and Snapchat and send everyone all kind of videos of how much fun they’re missing out on.”

Xtreme Concepts of Birmingham will serve as the “presenting sponsor” of the Wi-Fi in the new Talladega Garage Experience. The company’s founder, Landon Ash, was on hand today to announce a partnership between Talladega Superspeedway and 1st Foundation, a volunteer organization he oversees that assists first responders in foreign and domestic conflicts. First responders can get tickets for next month’s races at discounts up to 60 percent off the regular price.

To learn more about the Transformation project, the Talladega Garage Experience or to buy tickets, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)