My son-in-law was trying to explain it to me. The sights, the sounds the feeling. But I know now the words weren't adequate. He described the sound, the smell, the overwhelming sense of power, but the adjectives and adverbs were as effective as a child's water pistol in a firestorm. Talladega 500 for the first time.

Here I am, fifty four years on this earth and for over thirty of those years there has been a race at the Super Speedway and I've never been. I've watched lots of races on television and even listened to some on the radio as I worked in the shop. I've always enjoyed them but never considered myself a 'fan'. So this year a number of circumstances came together that allowed me to attend. My son-in-law has been in our family now for nearly two years (as a son-in-law) and I like him very much. We visit often and share holidays but we haven't ever done anything as just two guys. When he mentioned wanting to go, I casually mentioned that I might be able to get some tickets. I thought he would take my daughter or one of his close friends. Then he said he wanted me to go ! It truly flattered me, and kinda surprised me that he would want to go with his "father-in-law". Man, how dull could that be. So, I checked around for available tickets and we started making plans. My daughter and he live in Mobile and have a new son about 9 weeks old so travel has to be arranged, work schedules adjusted and serious packing must be done.

I'd talked to several friends at work, some diehard NASCAR fans and others who are past attendees. They offered parking advise, provision lists, warnings and admonitions. They all proved useful in one way or another. But nothing really prepared me for that Sunday. I had been sufficiently warned to leave early if I wanted to miss the gridlock this race causes from I-20 to your assigned seat. We left home at 6:00 a.m. and headed east on I-20. At this hour on a normal Sunday you'd see a few truckers rolling along and a stray night shift worker sleepily making his way home to breakfast and bed. That morning, you could consider the traffic heavy. Not rush hour, but crowded enough to make you pay attention to your merges and lane changes. When we crossed the river at Riverside it was 7:15 and the right lane was backing up for the Talladega exit. We moved along slowly 30-35 mph off the freeway and into the raceway. Souvenir vendor trailers dotted the roadsides and dozens of people held up fists full of tickets or quickly made signs hoping to draw some business with "Buy, Sell or Trade". The outlying campgrounds, (usually just a bush hogged field) were full and had been since Thursday. The first of the early risers were stretching and scratching and poking the fire to start some cooking.

We moved at a snails pace around the two lane road looking for the "best parking" I had been advised to seek. The first row of parking fields on either side of the road were already full and some were two or three cars deep. Five hours till the race and the speed way is just over 2.5 miles away. We made a turn in the road and could just see the top of the grandstand and the peaks and flags of the hospitality area when we came to a road block with a stern faced uniformed gentleman with a gold badge, who was trying to direct me to the field on the left. I asked him about going on further but he said without a VIP pass I was parking here… pointing to a 200 or so acre grassy field. We followed the line of others ( who had no idea where they were going either ) to the parking area and took our spot. We were now roughly a mile and a half from our seats. We packed up our two coolers and the backpack with the scanner, sunscreen, Tylenol, ear plugs, drinks and lunches and other necessary provisions and started our trek.

The experience began long before the race cars even rolled out of the garages and it's a story in itself. Crossing the parking field and blindly following the others we came to the Vendor area. This could roughly be compared to the midway at the state fair or traveling carnival. Now, there are no cat racks or dart boards to take your money, no barkers or sleazy hawkers telling you how easy it is to win. But, hundreds of semi trailers with attractive well dressed (in team colors) young men and women selling everything, I mean EVERYTHING that can be logo'd with your drivers likeness, number, colors, sponsors name and racing schedule for the year. Shirts, hats, jackets, model cars, golf balls, cell phone covers, ball point pens, shoes and commemorative 24 karat gold checkered flags autographed by your guy. One of the most overwhelming retailing enterprises I've ever experienced. Some of the drivers have two or three trailers in this area and every trailer has people standing 5 or 6 deep holding money in their outstretched hands. The profits must be enormous.

The NASCAR fan far and away outdoes the college football fan in showing his colors. All the way down to tattoos and body jewelry. I actually saw an eyebrow ring with a cute little #3 dangling from it. When the family comes as a group, the whole group is wearing their finest race day apparel, shirt, shoes and hats. They are sitting on seat cushions that bear their drivers number and the cold drink 'huggers' bear an autograph or likeness of their guy. They carry coolers shaped like race cars and officially licensed NASCAR shoes carry them to their destinations.

As we wandered through the area we saw tents erected by companies associated indirectly with the racing machine. Cell phone companies, software vendors with high tech simulators, soft drink companies and drug companies all somehow linking their product to the racing experience. Every one is the "official" whatever of NASCAR…. The "Official" soft drink, potato chip, scanner, running shoe, ice, hot dog, pretzel, and erectile dysfunction medication of NASCAR.

We didn't have sufficient clearance to enter the hospitality area, but we peeked through the fences and gates in awe. This high fenced and gated area is reserved for the friends and family of large corporate sponsors. There were conservatively 50 tents set up. Huge tautly stretched white tents with graceful canvas spires pointing to the heavens that held colorful pennants waving gently in the breeze. Mental images of Camelot and jousting matches come to mind. Long wide tables filled to overflowing with every food and drink you could imagine. Catering crews busily attended to their guests as they piled their plates with fried chicken and shrimp, while corporate representatives were slapping backs, shaking hands and tossing out business cards like a blackjack dealer at a Las Vegas $10 table. It was extravagant to say the least… (I'm gonna get in there next year…somehow ).

It was about nine a.m. by then and we were looking for the gate to the Talladega grand stand seats. It was of course on the far end of the seating from where we parked. We turned around to look for the parking area and it was over the hill and out of our view, but the tops of the trees that were close to where we parked were barely visible over the horizon. I thought at that time that the crowd was beginning to really pick up. Little did I know. We passed dozens of suites.. large rooms set up above the grandstands and under the tower seats. They had full width front windows and comfortable tiered seating. Air conditioners purred outside and carpet softened the footfalls of the privileged guests as a wait staff served them drinks and food. We schlepped on by following the signs and found our area and our seats.

When you enter the grandstand area you pass through a narrow walkway between two of the suite buildings. If you've never seen it before, your first glimpse is a surprise. I knew it was big…. But it's BIG !! The Tri-Oval track is 2.66 miles around and at least 1/2 mile across the infield. Large motor homes and trailers parked on the far side of the infield look like the tiny houses and hotels on a Monopoly board. As you pan around the area and see the grandstand and tower seating at the #4 turn you can actually see the perspective effect on your view… the upper and lower horizontal lines of structure and seating converging. There is so much activity around you, people moving to and from their seats loaded with their luggage for the day, wreckers, ambulances, service trucks and police vehicles scurry around to find their designated spots. Dozens of dealer trucks, Chevy and Fords and Dodges shuttle beds filled with VIPs and visitors around the apron of the track. Their speed not nearly fast enough to hold them to the high banked turns. The pace car making lap after lap with blue and white strobe lights flashing, giving the corporate executives and politicians their obligatory ride around the tri-oval… but they are up against the wall, and high in the turns… their speeds approaching 100 mph. It's all like a small city to itself… with its commerce and its traffic and its support structure in place. A full medical, security and fire department in residence and it's although temporary, widespread population of tents, campers, motor homes, school buses, trailers and a thousand bright blue tarps covering hundreds of acres inside the track and in outlying areas that make up this complex.

The traffic and activity on the track increase as the noon hour approaches. The empty seats painted in waves of color and checkered flag design begin to disappear into a sea of color speckled white. Most everyone wears a white tee shirt with their drivers design emblazoned on front or back, for two reasons. First, most of the shirts are made in white (higher profit margin) and secondly the heat. There is no shade on the Talladega grandstand or tower seats and several hours under the hot sun will convince even the die hard wearers of Earnhardt colors to switch to lighter cooler colors. They'll be no sign of car or driver until much later. They are securely tucked away in the multi million dollar garages where the toolboxes alone that cost more than most of our homes and possessions. I'm told that the total expenditure to field a NASCAR vehicle through a race season is in the neighborhood of twenty million dollars. That's probably why you don't see the #37 car with "Bill's Park and Eat" in glowing neon across it's hood. It takes a company with deep pockets to put and keep a car in the top ten consistently. The engineering cost alone could fund a small city.

Around 11:30 the announcements start. The Grand Marshall is introduced along with whatever visiting dignitary is available. This race had Randy Owen of the group Alabama and our illustrious leader Governor Siegelman. Each get to say a few words about the race or whatever. Then there is the parade for the supporting personnel, the fire trucks and wreckers and such.. a plug for those that do it for the free admission. Finally the hour approaches and the line up is announced with each driver getting his walk across the stage. Appropriate cheers and boos are inserted by the fans here depending on who likes who this week. NASCAR folks are extremely loyal and very vocal in their support or disapproval of a driver. Drivers who gave what the fans judged to be a illegal or at the very least, a rude nudge or rub to their driver last week were ceremoniously booed as they passed the stands this week. While out of chronological sequence, I have to mention…I was totally amazed at how 200,000+ people screaming at the top of their lungs during the 2nd lap of the race fell totally silent at the beginning of lap 3, most holding up three fingers in memory of Dale Earnhardt. It was really something and sort of spooky. It could not have been choreographed and practiced… it's from the heart and out of love and loyalty to Mr. Earnhardt.

After all the 'pre-game' hoopla is over the Grand Marshall instructs the racers to start their engines and they pour out of pit row. A flood of color and smoke and noise as they pair up in their proper order following the pace car around the track. The crowd cheering and waving and every single one of the multitude is on their feet. If you could harness the energy and excitement that's being generated at that moment you could light the city of Birmingham for a day or so. The pace cars (there are actually two) take them around the track as they ease into their positions and their speeds increase. On the second lap you see the pace cars fall off into pit row and the green flag is raised. The official drops the flag and over 40 cars producing in excess of 20,000 horsepower open up throttles and begin 188 laps of pure adrenaline rush. This is the thing that Jason could not define, explain or describe to me. The sound of over 40 full throttle 500+ horsepower engines reverberates off the stands and walls and asphalt. It is so deafening you can feel it. The small hairs on the back of your neck and your arms stand erect in excitement. You assure yourself that you've never felt such a rush (but wait….). As they scream into turn one and two, they spread out and jockey for their positions. Out of turn two they pour like liquid onto the back straight for 4000 feet building to speeds that very very few people ever experience with wheels on the ground. They slow only slightly as they climb up the high slope of the 3rd and 4th turns and head for the tri-oval straight. Our seats were in the Talladega stands between the start/finish line and the number one turn. By the time they passed us again they had nearly doubled their previous speed, the lead cars were stretched out in a straight line with the pack three and four wide behind them. You realize that the initial rush you felt at the start was only a tease…this pass was awesome ! They scream by again eating up 250 feet of asphalt each second.. and it would happen 187 more times. Whew !! The thunderous sound… the ground shaking vibration… the strong smell of racing fuel and the taste of rubber combine together into a sensation that is almost more than your brain can process at one time. As you see them heading into the back straight you realize you're supposed to be breathing. You stopped doing that when they passed the last time. I think it must be a created vacuum or something, but there is no air in your lungs. You concentrate so hard on the race that 50 laps have been completed and the leaders are starting to pit. Almost an hour has passed in what seems like a scant few minutes. There have been no accidents in the race so far which means no caution flags…green flag pit stops. The cars come in and in 15 to 18 seconds have four new tires and a full tank of gas. The pit crews motion is so fast and accurate that you can hardly follow them. As the leaders blend back into the pack and the other cars pit, you totally lose any sense of who's where in the race. I can't imagine how the officials keep up with leaders or laps or anything. It takes three to five laps for the pack to take on its original shape… it resembles a large wedge of metal moving together around the tri-oval straight…the leaders strung out ahead like a spear point with body following. I say the leaders because before the first pit stop there were more than a dozen lead changes… In all the lead changed 37 times with 26 different drivers out front at one time or another.

Each time they passed and climbed the turns we expected to see someone get sideways and start the inevitable mangling and crashing of metal. They rode through the one and two turns sometimes five wide on the high bank…less than a foot apart at times…over 180 miles per hour with 250 feet of asphalt flying under them each second. With a good set of binoculars and the right angle you could see the tire marks and bent metal on the sides of the cars. Sponsors decals on the fenders completely obliterated by rubber. Two cars trying to occupy the same space at the same time. But… as they say… rubbin' is racin'.

Sixty… Eighty…One hundred laps, past the halfway mark and another pit stop and still under the green. I'm tired ! I can't imagine how tired the drivers must be. Over an hour and a half of extremely tense concentration, totally absorbed with only one goal. Get to the front, alive and stay there. Another situation that the vast majority of us will never be in, unless you're a fighter jet pilot or an astronaut and even then not for such a sustained time.

Toward the end of the race and Sterling Martin has led the majority of laps but 25 others have had a turn also. Right now Tony Stewart is leading the pack and the lady two seats down from me is about to explode. She just Luuuvvvvvvvssss Tony Stewart. She can hardly catch her breath for screaming so hard. Four, three, two laps to go and Stewart is holding his own. The pack is tight behind him with Bobby Hamilton and Mark Martin running strong. The white flag goes down and you can cut the tension with your NASCAR belt buckle. Out of turn 4 Bobby Hamilton makes his move and overtakes Stewart to win the race, win nearly $200,000 and disappoint Tony and the lady two seats down severely. She's almost crying, she's so disappointed.. I can't imagine how Tony must feel. I also realized at that point that I had been standing for the three hours, the complete race. I did not spend a full lap in my seat, only sitting long enough to get a bottle of water or a sandwich from the cooler. You don't want it to end… your fix didn't last near long enough.

We slipped from our seats quickly and headed out as fast as possible. By the time we reached the outside fence the fans were pouring out of the stands, thousands of people in white… shoulder to shoulder and front to back. It looked like a giant river of milk pouring from holes in a large bowl. We've got a small lead on them and I'm sure it will help our exit from the field and onto the road.. (Wrong !!!) We jog the mile and a half to the car I get to the car, throw in the gear and fire it up… we move quickly to the exit road and zoom ahead… 50 feet. We occupied that spot (or within 10 feet of it) for the next hour and a half, with a couple of heated discussions with those late comers to the line trying to cut into the line ahead of us, One young lady was particularly annoying. While we were sitting and waiting there wasn't much to do but watch the crowds walk by, watch the guys and girls use the trees for cover (or so they thought) and laugh at the drunks falling down crossing the field. I saw this pair walk up and get into a brand new Explorer, the young lady driving and her boyfriend/husband/escort in the passenger seat. They then proceeded to pull up (or try to) into the 18 inches between my car and the car I was following ( actually the car I was parked behind for 90 minutes). Now I'm sitting in line for an hour and a half and she decides she's moving in ahead of me. It troubled me. To make my point, I moved around her bumper and almost up against the car in front of me. Evidently this upset her plan. She started blowing the horn, rolled down the window and hollered "Hey" at me. I lowered my window and said calmly "WHAT !!" Her next question floored me and later amazed me at its stupidity. She asked me "How good's your insurance ??" If she hadn't made me mad I would have laughed. I told her "I got full coverage with a fifty dollar deductible and a brother in law who owned a body shop." Her response was "Go for it !!" She revved her Explorer and spun her rear wheels, jumping up to within an inch of the rear quarter panel of the car in front of us, who's occupants were getting a little nervous. My son-in-law, who I guess thought I might need his support told me " If we need to get out in the grass and settle this…. I'm ready". I appreciated his back up but told him we'd do it peacefully and besides I didn't want to see the Talladega jail today. But, if it came to that for him to take the woman, I could handle her drunk boyfriend. Jason, being 30 years my junior, I'd gladly give him the hard fight.

On my right was a big ole' gray Surburban with his bumper at my right rear door, so I'm pretty much held to a straight line here. Now the lady in the Explorer has decided that she's ready to move (like the other 100,000 of us in that field aren't) and she starts blowing her horn, waving her arms and shouting. I guess she thought the traffic was going to do that Red Sea thing and she'd pass to the promise land. Nothing much seemed to happen, other than even more people were being annoyed. We sat for another half hour, waited and talked about the race. Two cars up from us ,a Z-24 (or Z-something) quit running. The driver and rider got out to push it out of the line but were fighting an uphill battle. The young lady in the Explorer went ballistic. She slammed her shifter into park and sat on the horn, beating on the steering wheel, hollering and waving even larger than before. Her boyfriend never stirred from his nap. Jason and the guy in the Surburban got out to help push the dead car to the side. When they moved the car, naturally the car between us moved up. I moved right behind her. Explorer girl hit the pedal, thinking she force me to stop. But in her tirade she'd shifted to park… her revving engine was my reward. She was shut out. As Jason walked back to the car, he intentionally walked back past her hood… he simply stopped there for a second and smiled, then got in our car. The look on her face was nearly worth the long wait that day…

We finally moved from the fenced field to the road. A two lane road with 4 lanes of traffic moving ever so slowly over it, occupying all the pavement and both shoulders…30 minutes later we had moved up almost to Speedway Road and near freedom. In a little over two hours we had moved a mile…maybe a mile and a half.

From this point the road widens to 8 lanes including the shoulders, both of which are being used. Our luck was good as most of the crowd was heading toward I-20 and had to use the right 6 lanes… we had already decided to head south through Talladega and Childersburg and up highway 280 to home. It was a wise decision. We didn't have a stop until we were in Inverness at a traffic light.. one hour and 20 minutes later we pulled into the driveway… tired but still pumped from the race. We talked about it with our wives for another hour… giving them much more detail than they needed and probably exaggerating somewhat… but only to make the story better.

All and all I can say it was one of the most fun days I've spent in a very long time. If there was just a way to "beam" yourself in and out of the track from home and back, it would have been perfect. I don't know if I'll get to go again, there are many other things that control my time. But, I've been once and will never forget my first trip to Talladega Super speedway.

As a postscript, Jason was kidding on the trip up saying there will be at least 10 things that I'll see that I'd wish I hadn't seen… here's my list


1. 185 pound "ladies" in short tight midriff tops, short cutoff denim shorts so tight in the waist that they can't snap them…black leather shoes with lacy little girl socks. Tattoos on the inside and outside of both calves and a navel ring buried in the rolls…eeeeuuuuuwww

2. A guy sitting two rows down from you, drinking one beer after another in the hot sun, stuffing down a foot long hotdog piled to overflowing with kraut, onions, bell peppers, j'alepeno peppers, mustard and ketchup. One hour later after more beer…. The hot dog RETURNS !!!

3. Drunk Guys peeing behind trees

4. Drunk Guys peeing in front of trees.

5. Drunk Girls peeing in front of trees ( they thought they were BEHIND the tree)

6. People so enraptured with NASCAR drivers that they will spend $35.00 for a 3.95 tee shirt.

7. The look on a fathers face (20 minutes before the race )who just spent $40.00 for a scanner rental and $5.00 for a frequency list. He watches his nine year old drop it on the concrete steps and it shatters into four million pieces. You know he's thinking how his $40.00 rental fee just went to a $200.00 purchase, and he never even turned it on…..

8. A 300 pound hairy guy in 250 pound shorts and flip flops standing over a Coleman stove (next to his big yellow 60 passenger "motor home" ) frying eggs and sausage, sopping biscuits in syrup and eating them in one bite as he cooks

9. PVC flavored cheeseburgers that cost 5.00

10. Walking past a guy at Sunday's race who's been at Talladega since Wednesday in the same clothes, with way too much Old Forrester and no shower facilities.