MONTE DUTTON – ‘WAR EAGLE TO YOU, FRED’
Talladega Superspeedway has always been tough. Winning has always been a crap shoot for all but the masters of its nuances. Dale Earnhardt was such a man. So was Buddy Baker.
Show me a newcomer to its perils, and I will show you a young man (or in rare instances, woman) whose initial impression is that winning is all car. Tony Stewart thought that, but after a few years, got the almost mystical hang of it.
When I started going to Talladega, it scared me because no writer and only a few weathermen (or women) likes to deal with tragedy, and it’s part of the job. The first race I ever wrote about there, a red Chevrolet driven by a driver named Jimmy Horton sailed out of the whole track.
Back in the 1990s, one Talladega race was run at the end of July, which, at trackside, is Phoenix-hot plus humidity. I got deathly ill there once, so much so that I retired to the parking lot to sit in the car with a wet rag on my forehead. When the rag dried, I went back inside the media center and caught up on what was happening.
No telling how bad my lead story was that day. I don’t remember and don’t want to know.
Another year I had passed a stone at the hotel room – I don’t recommend this if you can avoid it – and reported to the infield hospital the next morning and showed the doctor a few pebbles my body had ejected.
“God almighty!” he said, which was not exactly a confidence builder, but he said I’d be fine and was correct.
After Earnhardt’s death, racing got much safer, and his death was an awful price to pay. The previously summertime race became a fall race, and I slowly stopped dreading it. In fact, I looked forward to listening to Alabama talk radio in football season.
“War Eagle to you, Fred.”
“War Eagle right back at you, Ernie.”
“Roll Tide to you, J.B.”
“Roll Tide right back at you, Sara.”
That, of course, also put Talladega in the playoffs previously known as the Chase – now even more godforsaken – and the figurative heat replaced the literal.
Ultimately, a writer wants more than anything else something, tragedy aside, about which to write, and Talladega is an irresistible prospect. Now that it’s on TV, and I’m not going to have to stand around with a mob outside the infield hospital anymore, I can’t keep my eyes off it.