Talladega Sunrise Part 1
by BethAnne, Special To NASCAR news, fantasy racing advice and statistics On Pit Row
I am the field producer/photographer of the syndicated radio show/website ON PIT ROW. When Steve and Charlie ask me to 'jump', I say "Yeah right."April 25, 2008 7:53 am UTC 2 Comments
It was February in Northwest Ohio. A time plagued with seemingly endless weeks of cold, wind, sleet and snow. As often happens that time of year, I had thoughts of heading south .
I had won a three lap ride from The Dale Jarrett Racing Adventure and going to Alabama for a few days of relief from the ‘Great White North’ was very appealing. Besides…Racing…So I gave the DJRA base camp in North Carolina call and made a reservation. Then, I decided that a 3-lap ride just wasn’t for me– so I upgraded to a 6 lap drive. I mean, if I was just looking for speed I’d go hop on a roller coaster. I mean how many chances will I get to drive a Cup car?
My drive was scheduled for the 7:30am session on a Saturday so I decided to drive down on Thursday and have time to acclimate myself to the area. It’s approximately a 12 hr drive from where I live to Talladega, so figuring in stops for food, gas, etc. I decided to get up and head out about 4:00am. Now my brain starts processing the reality that I am actually going to be driving a race car on Talladega Superspeedway. It seems unreal. I’m conjuring up mental worse case scenarios. It’s been a while since I’ve driven a stick and I keep hearing that the clutch in these cars is tricky. So I’m picturing myself stalling endlessly in the pits trying to get out on the track. Or maybe I’ll freak out and slam the damn thing into the wall. Possibly, I’ll simply be a wuss and not get the car over 80mph …..Nah….
As it turns out, the ride down to Alabama was far more frightening than driving a cup car. Cruising along I75 at about 75mph most of the way things were looking good very few slow downs due to construction, the traffic was moving fluidly except for the steady sprinkling of rain everything was going smoothly-that should’ve been my first warning. Suddenly, about 20m from the border of Tennessee the black pick-up truck directly in front of me abruptly veers off an slams into the side of the mountain and flips over on its cab. I take my foot off the accelerator and let the car coast. I can feel the tires wanting to slide sideways. In a matter of seconds, the road has become one gigantic skating rink. In front of me are a row of semis not driving more than 5mph heading down a steep downgrade and all along the sides of both south and north bound I75 are vehicles waylaid by the road conditions. (I stopped counting after 8).
One hour and five white knuckle miles later, the road is clear as if there was never any ice at all. It was at that moment that any trepidations I was experiencing about Talladega melted away. After all, in the Cup car, I would be protected by a steel roll cage, strapped in by a Hans device, protected by a helmet, Safer Barriers and surrounded by various other safety precautions not included in your standard passenger vehicle traveling down your local highway. When I arrived, I spent the evening just chillin’.
On Friday morning, I left my hotel and headed over to the track so I could time how long it takes to get there (I so totally don’t want to be late on Saturday). While there, I visited the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum. In the silence of being the only one there and looking at the cars of legends and personal favorites like Richard Petty, Fireball Roberts, Bill Elliott, Shawna Robinson, Patty Moise and Louise Smith, I felt like I was in church. I was keenly aware of the rawness of the inside of the vehicle, thinking of a person rattling around in a sparsely padded passenger compartment for hours sometimes in unbearable heat was awe inspiring. (especially after how uncomfortable I felt after my 12 hours in a cushy vehicle) I took it all in like an unspoken prayer. Then, in a moment of pure orneriness, I grab my cell phone “Hey Steve, guess who’s car I’m standing in front of right now? I’ll give you a hint: he holds the fastest Qualifying record…” (He’s a big Bill Elliott fan) Yeah, I had to rub it in.
Part two tomorrow. Come on back.
Photo credit: BethAnne Heisler – ON PIT ROW