Over the years, I am certain that all the readers on this site, and those that follow me on Twitter, understand that when this track comes on the schedule, my blood pressure goes up. Yes, I talk about the unknown…I discuss the vulnerability…and I discuss control, since all those come when the 2.66-mile monster that is Talladega officially comes up.
This year, however, it takes on such a different meaning considering how the year began.
It is almost guaranteed that every driver coming to this race has fear, because it was nearly four months ago that we lost one of our own in front of thousands of people and millions more on television. But, we didn’t, because of safety and response. Of course now those front line heroes have taken on an entire new meaning, just because they are doing their job and risking their health for us, but at that time they still were the heroes for being able to save Ryan Newman from what could have been a steel coffin.
That said, entering this track now has fear even greater, because literally everyone is entering blind.
Yes, more safety measures are in place to try and slow the cars down, and prevent anything from happening like we saw at Daytona. But, unlike in February, these teams are entering this race with new rules, yet zero track time. There is no chance to know exactly what these cars will do in the draft, the speeds, nor how they handle with the aerodynamic changes on the nose.
So there’s a lot of unknowns already entering this event, and now the fear has gone up because this is the first real race in these kind of conditions since Daytona.
But it also is a special event because even though it is at a low number, fans actually can be in the grandstands on Sunday for this race. It may be only 5000 people, spread out over a track that can hold over 100,000 people, but at this track, the fans are just as much a reason to be here along with the action on the speedway. Coming from someone who has experienced the infield at this place, they are certainly the most dedicated and passionate fans I have ever seen in one area.
You can’t walk mere feet without seeing someone wearing a shirt with a 3, 8, or 88. Even in retirement, and death, this place is and always will be Earnhardt country.
It’s also the first race with fans since the move to ban the confederate flag, which in Alabama is harder to do on a normal race weekend. With the policy in place that literally will not allow tailgating, but rather park the car and head into the track, it might be easier since there’s no way anyone will be able to get set up their usual canopy, chairs, grill and sometimes the pool.
This is a place that is hard to judge who will be fast, and who is better at being the pusher, and who can keep control of either lane. With no plates to restrict power, the acceleration is greater, and thus increases the danger.
It is simply part of what makes this track what it is. The fear of the unknown, the hope for some trust, and the relief once it is over. This is, after all, Talladega.