A Special Kinship

People unfamiliar with Winston Cup racing often ask me what the attraction is to the sport. Why in the world do people drive thousands of miles to watch 43 other people drive 500 miles?

Obviously, racing means different things to different people. From my perspective, it comes down to this: We can relate to what they do and who they are.

Unlike many professional athletes, racecar drivers are, for the most part, like us. They aren’t 7-feet tall. They don’t weigh 290 pounds. Well, one might. Their necks aren’t the size of redwood trees and they typically don’t run the 40-yard-dash in the time it takes to unleash a hiccup. And they’re like us because they drive. Most of us over the age of 16 do that.

We don’t drive 200 miles per hour three-wide, with the possible exception of rush hour on the interstate, but we understand the concept of being in a car and driving fast.

I love football, but I could no more throw a tight spiral 60 yards in the air than I could get Britney Spears to return my phone calls.

I’m a big basketball fan, but I can’t dunk – unless I use a trampoline and make two trips. The purity and simplicity of baseball has always fascinated me, but if I saw a 95-mile-per-hour fastball coming at me I’d wilt like Paula Jones in a celebrity boxing match. But when we see a NASCAR pilot negotiating traffic, in some small way we can put ourselves in their place. Any of us who has been forced to make an evasive maneuver when a car veers into our lane can appreciate how skilled these Winston Cup stars are.

You think it’s white knuckle driving trying to make it from Six Flags to the Georgia Dome in one piece? Imagine being packed in with 40 cars and traveling almost three times the legal speed limit.

Thing is, we can imagine it. And there are very few of us who haven’t watched a race and put ourselves in the place of a Mark Martin or Sterling Marlin.

Sure, we’ve also fantasized about being Kurt Warner, Chris Webber or Barry Bonds, but when we visualize ourselves behind the wheel of a Winston Cup car we can appreciate steering, braking and speeding because we’ve actually done it before.

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Then there’s the accessibility factor.

I mentioned earlier that drivers are like us, and I mean that in several different ways. For the most part, they’re nice folks.

When was the last time Ward Burton charged you $25 for an autograph? Try to shake hands with an NBA player as he heads out onto the basketball court and see how far you get.

While there are many professional athletes who are unapproachable at best, and card-carrying jerks at worst, the vast majority of NASCAR drivers are just regular folks. They’ll shake your hand and talk to you. They’ll make time for you even when they really don’t have the time.

They do that because once you take away their ability to compete in the most dangerous sport in the world, they could just as easily be your neighbor or your friend.

I can imagine going over to Ward Burton’s house and eating barbecue. I can’t imagine doing the same thing at Ray Lewis’ place.

When I’m watching a race, I’m watching men (and occasionally a woman) who have an appreciation for hard work and dedication. Many of them, most of them, had to work for everything they have and they haven’t forgotten their roots.

Maybe that’s why NASCAR racing has gone from a regional sport to an international phenomenon and why it now has lucrative television contracts and fans from all walks of life.

So for those who still wonder what the attraction of the sport is, read up on the drivers. I doubt you’ll find very many who are candidates for The Jerry Springer Show or the E! True Hollywood Story.

Watch a Winston Cup event on TV. Then, the next time a race comes to your area, cough up some cash and head to the track.

Pretty soon, you’ll be hooked.

Why? Because it’s a great sport made up of good folks – folks like you and me.

We can all relate to that.

Talladega Superspeedway is now more fan-friendly.

Talladega: Bigger and Better

“Look at the improvements made at Talladega Superspeedway in the past few years, and each and every one of them were made with our fans in mind,” said Talladega Superspeedway President Grant Lynch. “From the free shower houses and the extended tram routes to the additional opportunities for those who spend the weekend on the property, Talladega Superspeedway continues to be a world-class facility.”

Seven new entrance plazas give fans 95 lanes to go through as they enter the facility.

In addition, fans staying in the free sections of the family campground here will notice they have a new driveway for the weekend.

These are just the latest improvements in a facility that has undergone a massive facelift in the past few years.

The track has added more than 5,000 tower seats and a shower house in the infield. The O.V. Hill South Tower has grown by 25 rows, making it nine rows higher than the Tri-Oval Tower. The addition allows 5,200 more fans to watch the race from the grandstands, and seating capacity now totals 143,000.

The shower house lets fans that camp in the infield have the luxury of a new, first-class facility. “Doing this will enable the fans to have a more convenient and comfortable weekend,” Lynch said. “At Talladega we’re getting more and more camping, and that’s a trend I think will continue.

“Our staff wants Talladega Superspeedway to be the one track fans want to return to year after year. In order to do that, we have to listen to our fans and continue to give them the best possible experience racing offers.”

In the past four years TSS has constructed a new press box and eight suites in the tri-oval; built new garages for the Winston Cup and Busch Series teams; added on to the infield media center; built the 23,000 Allison Grandstand; added 11,00 seats in the Tri-Oval Tower; remodeled and enlarged the owner/driver motor coach area; and created the Coleman Family Reserved Campground as well as the Allison Motorhome Avenue along the backstretch, which offers 40 motor home spots with power, water and sewer capabilities.

“Our fans, who are the best bunch out there, are diverse,” Lynch said. “Some are passionate about tower seats – the higher the better. Others are just as passionate about camping in the infield.”

Terry Labonte

Meet the Drivers

Terry Labonte
Hometown: Corpus Christi, Texas
DOB: 11/16/56
Wife: Kim
Children: Justin and Kristen
Drives: Kellogg’s-sponsored Chevrolets for Hendrick Motorsports

Labonte, who has been a Winston Cup competitor since 1978, won his lone Winston Cup title in 1996 and also claimed the International Race of Champions crown in 1989. In his career, Labonte has won 21 races and earned more than $26 million.

Terry and his older sibling Bobby are the only brother combo to win Winston Cup titles.