Darrell Waltrip loves Talladega, and for good reason. He made his first NASCAR start at the Talladega Superspeedway back in 1972.
“I love coming here. It’s a great place to come and bring your family and see an incredible race.”
Waltrip returned Thursday to talk about renovations to the 50-year-old track, including the new tunnel under construction in turn three.
“I love the tunnel. I know lots of tracks have tunnels, but this is the be-all end-all of tunnels. Two of those big haulers can go through there at the same time, which is kind of unheard of, so great job, great planning, great foresight.”
Track chairman Grant Lynch praised Taylor Corporation, the general contractor on the project, for keeping the tunnel work on schedule, despite the rain.
“It started raining when they (Taylor Corporation) cut the racetrack and, for those of you who live in this part of Alabama, y’all know it hasn’t quit since,” Lynch said. “For them to be on schedule now with what they’ve had to do – 30 million gallons have been pumped out of that hole since we first started building it, so they have done awesome work – and they are on schedule and I couldn’t be prouder of what they have done for us.”
Lance Taylor, president of Taylor Corporation, said three pumps his company installed to keep groundwater and rainwater pumped out of the tunnel are working properly. He said crews are backfilling the tunnel and plan to have everything finished by the first of April, just in time for the Geico 500 on April 28.
The tunnel is just one of several infield projects the Talladega Superspeedway is planning this year as part of its $50 million “Transformation.” The track is building a 69-spot premium RV park near the finish line and a VIP “Talladega Garage Experience” for fans to interact with drivers and crews.
Waltrip, who is an analyst on FOX NASCAR broadcasts, admits some drivers may not be excited about fans being in the garage area, but he said they will tolerate it if it will help the sport grow.
“I think we are kind of at an experimental stage with our sport. We’ve had these hardcore folks like a lot of us in this room, we have how we think the sport should be run and our expectations, but we have a lot of new fans that can’t understand, ‘Why can’t I go in the garage? Why can’t I wear open-toed shoes in the garage? Why can’t I wear shorts in the garage? Why can’t I wear a tank-top in the garage?’ So, we’re going through that whole transition from the core, older fans to the younger, more current, everyday, what we see everywhere else, so I think it’s going to be interesting. I don’t necessarily think the teams will be in favor of that, but we all understand it and we all want the sport to thrive and grow and be bigger and better than it’s ever been before, so the teams will be willing to tolerate that.”
Waltrip said the drivers control the excitement.
“The drivers control how the race goes. They decide how they’re going to run the race and then they decide if they’re going to make it exciting or not. We can’t have cars riding around the top all day long – nobody’s going to watch and everyone’s going to get upset if that’s all we see.”
Waltrip praised the Talladega Superspeedway for giving fans plenty of opportunities to have fun on race weekends.
“It’s like going to Mardi Gras. They line up the motor homes and they get out to karaoke and they put up all the lights and they throw beads … it’s a pretty wild and crazy place to go.”
Lynch thanked Waltrip for taking time out of his schedule to visit.
“He’s just been a great spokesman for the sport. To take his time to come down here and help us get started with our first race as part of our Transformation Project is great for us. We think the world of him.”
Lynch presented Waltrip with a piece of the track he drove on during his first race in 1972.
For more information on the Transformation Infield Project at the Talladega Superspeedway or upcoming races, visit talladegasuperspeedway.com.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)