For 75 million NASCAR fans, Talladega Superspeedway is the transcendent track, the mother lode of racing lore and legend. At this 143,000-capacity motorhead mecca, located on close to 3,000 acres just outside Birmingham, spectators have witnessed some of the fastest recorded racing speeds on the planet.
NASCAR (the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), founded by Bill France, held its first race in 1949 in Daytona Beach, Florida, still the organisation’s hallowed headquarters. France branched out to other states (North Carolina is the unofficial epicentre) in 1969, building the Alabama International Motor Speedway, which changed its name in 1989 to Talladega Superspeedway after the small town it’s located just outside.
There’s no better time to experience the thrill than during NASCAR’s top competition, the Nextel Cup series, a gruelling gauntlet of 36 races over ten months at various venues (Talladega hosts two). NASCAR tracks are all different, varying from about half a mile in length to Talladega’s 2.66 miles (the longest). It was here that Bill Elliott achieved the fastest qualifying lap ever recorded, in 1987: 212.809 mph. Beginning the following year, NASCAR required cars to run with restrictor plates, which prohibit such excessive speeds, but the track is still known for its frequent accidents.
Despite the ‘Southern redneck’ stereotype, NASCAR’s intensely loyal fans have a broad demographic. Only about 38 per cent of them live in the South, three-quarters of them have attended college and 40 per cent are women.
The International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum, on the grounds adjacent to Talladega, showcases over 100 mint-condition cars, trucks and other racing vehicles going back to a 1919 Ford raced at Indy. Among the cars on display are Bill Elliott’s 1985 Ford Thunderbird, Darrell Waltrip’s favourite race car, ‘Bertha’, and Daytona 500 winners driven by Dale Jarrett, Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.
Although unrelated to NASCAR, the nearby Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is a common excursion for motor buffs visiting the area. Founded by local businessman George Barber, who restored and raced Porsches in the 1960s and ’70s, the non-profit museum traces the history of the motorcycle through a stunning array of more than 1,000 machines.
The hands-down favourite? A replica of the Harley-Davidson from the classic 1969 film Easy Rider. Next to the museum is the lovely Barber Motorsports Park, a winding 2.3-mile road course used for motorcycle and historic sports car races and home to schools and clubs such as the Porsche Driving Experience.