Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 29, 2018, 8:32 a.m.
Joe Garagiola said baseball is a funny game – once upon a time, I read the book – and Talladega Superspeedway is a funny place.
It’s hard to round up the usual suspects. By the time they’re detained, their lightning-fast race cars are often crumpled and disfigured. Those cars, even while they’re still intact, aren’t as fast as they could be. Their engines have these devices called restrictor plates, which used to be placed between carburetors and manifolds, but that was when they still had carburetors. Now they’re somewhere else, but the specifics of fuel injection elude me.
All I really need to know is that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won last year. Stenhouse is a good driver, but his trusty mounts do not have the gallop speed necessary to win at most tracks. He also won at Talladega’s older brother in Daytona Beach, Fla.
What do these men have in common? Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton (R.I.P.), Dick Brooks, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard, Bobby Hillin Jr., Phil Parsons, Brian Vickers and David Ragan.
They all won there. Combined, they have won 13 times, and nine were at Talladega. For seven, it was their first, and for six, it was their only.
Are you tired of Kyle Busch after three straight victories? Did Kevin Harvick make you weary earlier in the year? Either may win the Geico 500. Those mysterious plates don’t hinder the best and brightest. They just elevate the better and brighter.
The site of NASCAR’s most frenetic races fills my memories and freezes them in time. The action and videos exist in my mind as moments and snapshots. Over two decades, only three times was I sick on a race weekend, and two were at Talladega. It was where I saw two dear friends for the final time, and both perished suddenly a few days later.
I remember exactly where I was when Davey Allison’s helicopter, Tony Roper’s truck and Jack Roush’s ultralight crashed. Roush lived. Roper perished in Texas, but I washed it on TV next to a swimming pool in Anniston. The memories are in color. The color is red.
Not all the memories are sad. Many others are funny. If ever Talladega hosted an average race, it was an anomaly. Lay all those races end to end, and they still point in all directions.
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