UPDATE: This article is written by Michael Tomberlin from Alabama NewsCenter. Learn more at: http://alabamanewscenter.com
Watching cars scream by loud and live, three wide with a beer in your hand, the sun on your back and a new friend you just met next to you in the bleachers has been the way to watch NASCAR at Talladega Superspeedway for nearly a half-century.
But the $50 million “Transformation” project the racetrack’s owners revealed this week is a clear sign that the next generation of NASCAR fans are expecting something different to draw them to ‘Dega.
There are certain facts that NASCAR and its storied tracks must address. Race attendance and viewership have been down sharply the past decade, and an older generation of fans have had a hard time embracing a younger generation of drivers.
One of those younger drivers, Daytona winner Austin Dillon, understands the need to bridge the old with the new. As the grandson of legendary driver and owner Richard Childress, Dillon has an appreciation for the nostalgia and history of NASCAR and tracks like the Talladega Superspeedway. But at 28 years of age, he also knows what millennials and other younger fans expect when shelling out money for a ticket.
“It shows where our sport’s really putting the effort to have our fan experience go way up,” Dillon said of the improvements that Talladega Superspeedway’s parent company, International Speedway Corporation (ISC), has dubbed “Transformation.”
Among the enhancements will be:
- Garage Fan Zone Experience, with more than 140,000 square feet of social and engagement areas, and up-close access to race car bays via a viewing walkway in the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage. There will also be interactive attractions and enhanced amenities in the infield for fans, sponsors, teams and stakeholders. The area will have Wi-Fi, two new concession stands, restroom complexes, a guest services center and a fan first-aid facility.
- Open Air Club, a 35,000-square-foot covered area with lots of seats, a bar, a 41-foot video screen and views into the garage areas.
- Paddock Club will be a two-level viewing and seating area for more than 600 at the end of pit road.
- New Gatorade Victory Lane will be visible to fans in the grandstands and the Garage Fan Zone Experience.
- About 300 new RV spaces – all with power and water hookups – offering views of the Alabama Gang Superstretch and the start-finish line.
- A new two-lane, oversized vehicle tunnel at the end of the Alabama Gang Superstretch will allow 24-hour entry/exit access for vehicular traffic, including RVs, along with a tram route that will deliver fans to the entrance of the new Garage Fan Zone Experience.
“It’s Talladega and it’s well-deserved because this has been a place for fans to come and enjoy the experience for a long time and we’re just giving them something more to be excited about,” Dillon said. “That makes me happy for all of our fans.”
The Open Air Club, with its more comfortable seating, full bar and giant-screen television, is meant to cater to an audience accustomed to comfort and options. The Wi-Fi will be attractive to those looking to share photos and videos of their time at the track.
The Transformation at Talladega builds on similar improvements ISC has made at other tracks, such as those in Daytona and Richmond.
Childress, founder, chairman and CEO of Richard Childress Racing, said there is no doubt who most of the enhancements are meant to attract.
“I think what it is, is the modernization of our sport,” he said. “When you do what they’re doing here and these other racetracks, all of this stuff is for our race fans – get them in, get them closer and let them have more excitement.”
Another thing the younger generation expects is access.
With walkways into the garages of the top 22 teams and some of the other enhancements, fans will have better access than any other sport, said Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway.
“You’re inside the locker room, basically, and you’re going to be able to stay there and party and visit with your friends and then go back to your seat and then come back the next day,” he said. “People are going to go in there because it’s going to pop, it’s going to be interesting and it’s going to be cutting edge.”
Older fans may cringe when they hear adjectives like “cutting edge,” but Lynch said the changes won’t affect the racing itself.
“This is still going to be Talladega,” he said. “We’re just going to have some shiny stuff in the infield. And I think most of the fans are going to like what we’re doing, regardless of how long they’ve been a fan. They’re going to be able to see the sport in a way they never have been able to.”
Dillon is happy with the balance owners are striking with all fans in mind.
“Talladega is a place that holds our sport together,” he said. “It’s a glue of our sport because you know that people are going to be here every time we show up, no matter what. If there is a race going on, the fans are going to show up. This is rewarding those fans who show up each and every year for this experience. Now we’re enhancing their experience and giving them something to be proud of when they come here.”
Construction will start following the Oct. 12-14 NASCAR Playoff doubleheader this year, featuring the 1000Bulbs.com 500 and Talladega 250.
The new RV spaces and Race Operations improvements will be ready in time for the spring 2019 race while the other infield enhancements will be ready in time for the fall 2019 race.
NASCAR and International Motorsports Hall of Famer Richard Childress raced in the first NASCAR race at Talladega in 1969 and has run many races there with his Richard Childress Racing team of drivers.
“Talladega Superspeedway is where my career began as a driver, so it holds a special place in my heart,” Childress said. “Over the years we have met so many fans that love our sport here, and with this new endeavor, Talladega and ISC are taking this place to next level. Fans have loved it for nearly 50 years, but this is going to take it to new heights.”
The improvements are expected to add to the economic impact the Talladega Superspeedway has on the state by bringing in more than 100,000 race fans to the state for two races each year.
“In 2017, Talladega had a $435 million impact on our state, including $167 million in payroll supporting nearly 8,300 jobs,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said. “We simply cannot overstate the positive impact that NASCAR, (ISC) and the Talladega Superspeedway have on Alabama. Attractions like Talladega are essential to a healthy industry of tourism and it has a positive effect on Alabama’s economy.”
“We are excited to be involved in the redevelopment of the Talladega Superspeedway,” said Turner Burton, vice president at Hoar. “It is an honor to work with International Speedway Corporation on one of the most famous racetracks in the world. We are building a strong team of local partners that will make sure the project is a success and has a significant economic impact for our home state. We are looking forward to breaking ground this fall.”
Transformation comes at a fitting time in the racetrack’s history, Ivey said.
“Since ground was broken at this site 50 years ago, Alabama has proudly been the home of the biggest and baddest racetrack in NASCAR,” she said.
Categories: Local Scenes Stuff