What Makes Talladega Superspeedway So Epic?

Lucy Atkinson

Originally called “Alabama International Speedway,” the Talladega Superspeedway is one of NASCAR’s gnarliest tracks when it comes to close racing, big moves and unexpected outcomes.

Talladega is NASCAR’s longest track, sitting at an outrageous 2.66 mile (4 km) in length. The track boasts long stretches and its width produces eye-boggling three, four or even five-wide racing. Its reputation means that thousands of fans will flock from far and wide to attend.

Not only that, but Talladega features twice on the race schedule – once earlier on in the year, and again during the important playoff races. The October 2017 race definitely didn’t disappoint, and it begs the question: what is it that makes Talladega so gutsy, epic and downright legendary?

Setting up in Alabama after failed attempts to reason with local government over the Occoneechee Speedway in North Carolina, Bill France Sr wanted to build a longer and faster track than Daytona International Speedway.

Eventually, he found a great spot on an old airfield on May 23rd 1968. After spending $4,000,000 and a year and a half on the project, NASCAR saw the opening of “Alabama International Motor Speedway” on September 13th 1969.

The name “Talladega Superspeedway” didn’t come into effect until 1989. The first race wasn’t an outright success, as all the original drivers – led by Richard “The King” Petty, abandoned the track due to tire problems. Despite the initial teething problems, Talladega started to host two Cup Series races a year, the second of which was part of the 10-race “Chase” for the Championship win.

Talladega has seen a whopping 10 first-time winners cross its finishing line, such as Davey Allison, Brad Keselowski, and most recently in 2017 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. This was an incredible feat by those drivers, due to how unpredictable the races can end up being.

There are those who believe that the odds can be stacked against the drivers in what’s known as the “Talladega Jinx.” This stems from the belief by some that the track was built upon ancient Indian burial grounds and has since been cursed. The strangest thing that was ever reported at Talladega was when Bobby Isaac parked his car mid-race and got out because “the voices told him to do it.” Spooky!

On top of the “Talladega Jinx,” the track has managed to build up a reputation for managing to generate what’s known as “The Big One” during every race. Speeds are in excess of 200 mph, and these seemingly fearless drivers will race frantically and aggressively. It was as early as 1970 when Buddy Baker became the first driver to run at a speed over 200 mph – completing a 200.447 mph lap during testing.

Those sorts of speeds were phenomenal for the time, and it wasn’t long before those gut-wrenching speeds were the cause for some horrendous crashes. The first fatality was with Larry Smith in 1973, and the second was Tiny Lund in 1975. In 1987, Bobby Allison was involved in a horrific wreck after making contact with debris from a blown engine. His right-rear tire was cut and his car took off in a sickening vault through the air. His car damaged some fencing, but fortunately didn’t flip into the stands.

This then led to the introduction of restrictor plates at both Talladega and Daytona International Speedway. These plates restrict airflow and fuel entering the engine, which caps the car’s top speed. As a result, races have become extremely close, with cars running in “packs” and sometimes using four or five lanes across the track.

Inevitably, if a bump draft, side draft or maneuver goes wrong – one car is likely to pick up many more and cause “The Big One.” Cautions then breed cautions due to chaotic restarts and drafting mistakes. This is seen year after year, and October 2017’s Talladega race saw only 15 out of 40 cars finish, due to the magnitude of wrecks.

Finally worth mentioning is the sheer scale on which people will flock to bear witness to Talladega’s incredible races. There were fans from an astounding, 21 different countries, five continents and all 50 states of the United States and the District of Columbia were represented in terms of attendees at the Alabama 500.

This sort of turnout is not surprising considering how highly respected Talladega Superspeedway is. After all, not every NASCAR track has a song named after it (Eric Church’s Talladega) as well as being the basis for the film “Talladega Nights.” Interestingly, over 70% of Talladega attendees are from outside of Alabama state and the two NASCAR races help Alabama’s economy by generating over $300 million per year.

Evidently, Talladega is a very sought-after NASCAR race to attend by fans from all over the globe. It has a rich history which features some of NASCAR’s biggest names and events. It’s full of big stories, creepy goings-on and huge wrecks.

It has seen drivers make their careers and break their careers. There are many reasons why Talladega’s reputation puts it onto a pedestal for fans and drivers to worship. In NASCAR, anything can happen and it’s not over until it’s over. At Talladega, that’s especially true and there’s hardly ever a dull moment.