The backstretch at Talladega Superspeedway is being christened The Alabama Gang Superstretch. As a rule, I find most official naming ceremonies to be contrived, marketing arrangements. Not that, that is a bad thing necessarily. But every once in a great while, somebody gets it all right. Talladega and SMI, got this one perfect.
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The Alabama Gang will once again have a significant presence at Talladega Superspeedway, where they were frequent contenders.
Original members Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison and Red Farmer were on hand Wednesday as track officials named the backstretch "The Alabama Gang Superstretch." The track unveiled the 200-plus foot painted sign ahead of this weekend's races, culminating with the Sprint Cup Series on Sunday.
"We had some great times here, and this is home," said Bobby Allison, who won four Sprint Cup races at Talladega in the 1970s and 80s.
The original Alabama Gang -- all International Motorsports Hall of Famers -- operated out of Hueytown, about 60 miles from the track.
The group grew to include others like Neil Bonnett and the late Davey Allison -- Bobby's son, who died in a helicopter crash on the Talladega infield in 1993.
Bobby's brother, Donnie Allison, was the first driver to take a race car around the Talladega track. His first reaction: "I was in awe."
"I couldn't believe how wide it was, how much room I had," said Donnie Allison, who had already run at Daytona Superspeedway. "It's only 12 feet wider than Daytona, but it looks like it's probably 40 or 50 feet wider.
"The bank is only 1 degree more or whatever it is but it felt like it was 10 or 15 degrees more. The other thing that I was really shocked about was the bad side of it was how rough it was. I couldn't believe a race track was already that rough."
And he had the worn-out tires after just a few laps to prove it. Donnie Allison won at Talladega in 1971 and 1977 and had seven Top-5 finishes.
Bobby Allison finished in the Top 5 13 times. Farmer, who still races at the Talladega Short Track, won on the superspeedway in ARCA in 1984 and 88.
Broadcaster Larry McReynolds, Davey Allison's former crew chief, recalled watching the original Alabama Gang at the Birmingham International Raceway as a child.
"Being from Alabama, our world was all about racing, and of course there is the Crimson Tide football, too," McReynolds said. "I can remember going to BIR when I wasn't even hardly in grammar school and to watch these three guys race at BIR, and I mean race and race hard. It didn't matter who came to try to outrun them, you had your work cut out for you if you were going to outrun any of these three guys."
Donnie's grandson, ARCA driver Justin Allison, will make his Talladega debut on Saturday.
"I grew up hearing these stories about all three of these guys," Justin Allison said. "That was pretty much everywhere we went. I mean, everywhere."
Now, he'll see their collective nickname on the backstretch, where not all the racing memories are happy ones.
"I did crash really bad there one day," a smiling Bobby Allison said, "so let's talk about something else."