A great weekend to be an American Talladega-style

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 24, 2001

For more than 80,000 racing fans, yours truly included, the weather and the action could not have been better last weekend in a small Alabama community known as Talladega, the location of "The World's Fastest Speedway."

Tracy Salter of our classified department and her husband Daniel met with me on Saturday for a weekend pumped full of adrenaline and good times.

A fourth person in our entourage, my close friend Debby Stinson, was unable to make the trip due to a recent back injury, and so I gladly called her from time-to-time to update her on the activities (and kind of rubbed it in at the same time, like when I was slicing into a two-inch thick smoked pork chop at the Media Center, some 75 feet or so from Pit Road).

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Hopefully she will soon be up and out again.

Saturday morning was the "Happy Hour", the last opportunity for drivers entered in the Sunday event, the EA Sports 500 to practice on the track prior to the race.

Saturday afternoon was the ARCA Food World 300 race, and it was exciting to see the drop of the green flag to the final checkered flag.

Wrecks were at a minimum, and injuries minor during the ARCA race, and when it was over, the real celebration began.

Eager fans from all over the continental United States arrived in RVs, trailers and vehicles of all sizes, shapes and descriptions.

Not an empty spot could be found, either inside the track on the infield, or outside it for miles around.

There were parties and street dances by the thousands, with Karaoke machines, stereo systems, barbecue grills, horseshoe pits, domino tables, and good fellowship along with just about any other activity, sport or otherwise.

There were so many camper sites that the sweet smell of hickory smoke filled the air constantly, throughout the weekend.

I chose to stay on the infield, where my wife's Ford Explorer served as camper, office, touring vehicle and concert hall.

This being my second race at Talladega, following my first experience in 1985 at the Die-Hard 500, I was quickly told by those on the infield that I was no longer an "infield rookie."

Security was never an issue, either, as the track, both inside and out had more than 2,000 police officers on patrol around the clock.

Late Saturday night (actually, early Sunday morning) a fight started in the center of the infield, more like a domestic dispute between a couple.

The officers were in there like bees swarming to a busted hive, and soon the offender was given custom "Smith and Wesson" bracelets, and a free ride to a free night's room and board.

Some officers came from as far away as Michigan and Ohio to serve for the weekend.

While in the pits on Sunday, I ran into one of my very closest friends, and a former co-worker of the Greenville Police Department days.

Lee Harrison, who with his family resides in Sylacauga and works for the Clay County Sheriff's Office had a "plush" detail for the day.

It seems that Coleman Camping Gear, a major corporate sponsor for the weeklong campout, had two young ladies among their executive entourage that wanted to witness the race from the pit area.

Well, Lee was just more than happy to serve as their escort and security officer, which he did from start to finish.

More than half the EA Sports 500 race on Sunday went by before the first accident occurred, which is in and of itself a great accomplishment, according to track officials. It was not until the 94th lap that Todd Bodine wrecked his K-Mart Blue Light Special" Ford that an accident was officially recorded for the event.

Following the end of the race, which, I might add was phenomenal and led to Dale Earnhart Jr. in Victory Lane, along with lucky fan Carrie Richter, who's name was drawn in a contest to win $1 million if "Junior" won, I decided to wait a while before making the trek southward back to the Camellia City.

Well, I say I decided, but the fact is, there was no decision on my part. The exodus out of the track and to the Interstate was a long three-hour drive, bumper-to-bumper, to travel about five miles.

While waiting for the time to be right, I spoke with some fans from Atlanta, and was invited to join them at their campground during the upcoming race there.

After grabbing a shower, I made my appearance at the souvenir stand to get some momentos for my brood at home, and then headed toward the exit at the north tunnel.

Arriving in Greenville around 3 a.m. Monday morning, I was thinking that April is not really too far into the future, and so am planning, if God is willing and the creek don't rise, to be there again in the spring.

And yes, I did find out that there are many Deep Left Fields on the infield of Talladega Super Speedway, which was where I was, along with many more sports fans.