Talladega Superspeedway is a motorsports complex located north of Talladega, Alabama.
It was constructed in the 1960s in place of abandoned airport runways by International Speedway Corporation, a business controlled by NASCAR's founding France family along with Daytona International Speedway and several other racetracks. At 2.66 miles (4.28 km) long, Talladega is the largest oval track in the Nextel Cup Series and has seating provisions for over 175,000 patrons.
The start/finish line is placed after the pit exit; the unusual placement has affected the outcome of several races (the start/finish line is normally placed across from the center of pit road). The track is adjacent to and visible from Interstate 20.
Talladega got off to a controversial start when the Professional Drivers Association, a union of drivers led by the great Richard Petty, went on strike the night before the inaugural Talladega 500. The union was concerned with the speed which could be attained due to the track's length and steep banking, and the perceived threat to driver safety that this posed. NASCAR founder Bill France took to the track himself in a car and drove around it at high speeds. NASCAR also ran a successful support race, but it was not enough, and the PDA drivers went on strike. Replacement drivers from the previous day's race were asked to race, and tickets were good for future races. The race was the only win for Richard Brickhouse and was the debut race for Richard Childress.
Restrictor Plates and "The Big One"
Speeds well in excess of 200 mph (320 km/h) were commonplace at Talladega. Talladega Superspeedway has the record for the fastest recorded time in a stock car - 212.809 mph (342.483 km/h) set by Bill Elliott on April 30, 1987. Elliott circled the 2.66-mile (4.28-km) trioval in 44.998 seconds. Early in that race, Bobby Allison's Buick flew into the catch fence by the start-finish line, injuring several fans.
NASCAR imposed rule changes to slow the cars after the incident, with a 1988 rule requiring cars running there and at Daytona to use restrictor plates. The most often cited reason is a fear that the increasing speeds were exceeding the capabilities of the tires available at the time, as high-speed tire failure had led to some gruesome crashes at slightly lower speeds . The plates limit the amount of air and fuel entering the intake manifolds of the car, greatly reducing the power of the cars and hence their speed. This has led to the style of racing held at Talladega and Daytona to be somewhat different from that at other superspeedways and to be referred to by NASCAR fans as "restrictor-plate racing".
The reduced power affects not only the maximum speed reached by the cars but the time it takes them to achieve their full speed as well, which can be nearly one full circuit of the track. The racing seen at Talladega today is extremely tight; often in rows of three or four cars, and sometimes even 5 wide on the straightaways throughout most of the field, as the track is wide enough to permit such racing. Such close quarters due to the cars being so close to each other, however, makes it extremely difficult for a driver to avoid an incident as it is unfolding in front of him, and the slightest mistake often leads to massive (and often frightening) multi-car accidents - dubbed "the Big One" by fans and drivers - and Talladega is notorious for such, and always has been. It is not uncommon to see 20 or more cars collected in them. Such huge crashes are less frequent at Daytona, which is a more of a handling oriented track.
The danger of "The Big One" not only can cause extensive damage to cars during a race, but it can effect points standings overall ... especially during the Chase for the Cup, since the UAW-Ford 500 is part of the Chase schedule. A massive crash can cause one driver who is leading in points to drop in the rankings, while another driver can find his standings suddenly rise up. It should be noted that such big wrecks occasionally occurred even before the restrictor plates were introduced as well.
Talladega hosts two Nextel Cup races and one Busch Series race annually. Both of the Nextel Cup races are 500.08 miles (188 laps) (800 km) in length. The names by which the races are called now vary due to the purchase of naming rights, with the spring Nextel Cup race since spring 2002 being referred to as the Aaron's 499 after the Atlanta-based rent-to-own chain. On July 26, 2005 it was announced that the Craftsman Truck Series would begin holding a race at Talladega starting in 2006.
The Winston 500 was known as one of the sport's four legs of the traditional "Winston Million", with the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, and the Southern 500 being the other three. With the demise of the Southern 500 by a lawsuit, there are only three majors remaining. (From 1985 until 1997, a driver who won three of the four majors won a one million dollar bonus.)
In Summer 2006, Talladega Superspeedway was repaved.
The International Motorsports Hall of Fame is adjacent to the Talladega Superspeedway.
See also: List of NASCAR race tracks
- NASCAR Nextel Cup: Aaron's 499
- NASCAR Nextel Cup: UAW-Ford 500
- NASCAR Busch Series: Aaron's 312
- NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series: John Deere 250
- ARCA RE/MAX Series: Food World 250
- March 24, 1970: During a tire test session for Goodyear, Buddy Baker becomes the first driver in NASCAR history to break the 200 mph barrier by turning a lap of 200.447 mph (322.588 km/h).
- August 20, 1971: Paula Murphy, "Miss STP" made a record closed course run for a female at 171.499 mph (276.001 km/h).
- August, 1974: A.J. Foyt tests an Indy car at a speed of over 217 mph (349 km/h).
- August 9, 1975: Mark Donohue sets a closed-course world record at 221.160 mph. It would stand as a world record for four years, and as a United States record until 1986.
- 1984: The Winston 500 set a still standing NASCAR record with 75 lead changes in a single race.
- May 5, 1985: Bill Elliott sets a 500-mile race record, winning the Winston 500 at an average speed of 186.288 mph. Elliott won the race despite losing nearly two laps during a lengthy early pit stop to fix a broken oil line, and despite the race only having two caution flags. Elliott made up the entire distance he lost under one lengthy, green-flag period. The record stood as the fastest 500-mile race of any kind until 1990, when Al Unser, Jr. broke it by winning the CART Michigan 500 at Michigan International Speedway at an average speed of 189.727 mph (305.336 km/h). Mark Martin later broke the record for fastest 500-mile NASCAR race (see below).
- November 26, 1985: Lyn St. James sets a record closed course run for a female, at over 200 mph (320 km/h).
- March 24, 1986: Bobby Unser sets a closed-course speed record for four-wheel drive vehicles with an Audi 5000CS Turbo Quattro at 206.825 mph (332.853 km/h).
- 1986: The Saab Long Run - set of 2 world and 21 international records with three series SAAB 9000 Turbo - 100,000 km with an average speed of 213.299 km/h and 50,000 miles with an average speed of 213.686 km/h.
- May 1, 1987: Bill Elliott sets the all-time NASCAR qualifying record, winning the pole for the Winston 500 at a speed of 212.809 mph (342.483 km/h) (44.998 seconds). The record still stands due strictly to the use of the carburetor restrictor plate, mandated after the 1987 season.
- October 11, 1988: Lyn St. James sets a record closed course run for a female at 212.577 mph (342.110 km/h), driving a Ford Thunderbird.
- December 14, 1989: Patty Moise sets a record closed course run for a female at 216.607 mph (348.595 km/h), driving a Buick.
- January 23, 1990: Patty Moise sets a record closed course run for a female at 217.498 mph (350.029 km/h), driving a Buick.
- 1996 Saab set endurance and speed record-breaking runs in their 900.
- May 10, 1997: Mark Martin wins the Winston Select 500, a race which had no caution flags, at a NASCAR 500-mile record speed of 188.354 mph (303.126 km/h), nearly ten years after the introduction of restrictor plates.
- June 10, 2004: Rusty Wallace tests a stock car without a restrictor plate for series sponsor Nextel to test communication capabilities, and hits a speed over 228 mph (367 km/h) on the straights (some reports say the speeds were close to 235 mph / 378 km/h), and 221 mph (356 km/h) average speed for the lap.
Memorable races at Talladega
- 1969: After a strike by the Professional Drivers Association, Richard Brickhouse, taking over the #99 Nichels Engineering car, wins his only career race in a field consisting of mostly Grand American drivers.
- 1973: The 1973 Winston 500 featured the largest starting field in modern era, 60 cars. It was also the first race at Talladega that "the Big One" really took its toll. On the 9th lap of the race,a multi-car crash occurred on the backstretch, eliminating 20 cars in all. David Pearson took the win by over a lap.
- 1973: Early in the 1973 Talladega 500, Larry Smith is killed in a freak accident in the first turn. His crew was fixing his car when they heard of his passing.
- 1975: Tiny Lund is tragically killed in the running of the Talladega 500 in a seventh lap crash. Dick Brooks takes a spectacular tumble down the backstretch later in the race. Buddy Baker would take the victory.
- 1981: Ron Bouchard wins his only Winston Cup event after passing Terry Labonte and Darrell Waltrip in the tri-oval coming to the checkered flag. Labonte and Waltrip were so occupied with each other that they did not notice Bouchard sneaking to the inside.
- 1982: In qualifying for the 1982 Winston 500, Benny Parsons qualifies at over 200 mph. His lap is the first 200 mph qualifying lap in NASCAR history.
- 1983: Phil Parsons and Darrell Waltrip are eliminated in a massive accident that also eliminates seven other cars. Parsons was turned into the Turn 1 wall nearly head on at 200 mph, causing his car to barrel roll side over side down the banking before landing on Ricky Rudd's car. Richard Petty would take his 197th win in that race. Dale Earnhardt wins his first race at Talladega in the Talladega 500 later that year,another race marred by an early wreck on the 1st lap, after Neil Bonnett blows an engine in Turn 4 and the oil spilled on the track causes cars behind to lose control.
- 1984: Cale Yarborough wins the most competitive race in NASCAR history,in terms of number of lead changes (75). Later in the Talladega 500 that year, Dale Earnhardt passes Terry Labonte on the final lap to win.
- 1986: In the 1986 Winston 500, the entire field of cars qualified at over 200 mph. Future greats such as Mark Martin and Alan Kulwicki failed to make the field. Before the race even got a chance to start, a drunk fan climbed into the pace car and took it for a few hot laps around the track, before being stopped by police and track workers. Bill Elliott had the car to beat early on, but on the last lap, Bobby Allison beat out Dale Earnhardt in a closely contested finish.
- 1986: In the Talladega 500, a record 26 of the 40 starters managed to lead a lap. Two-thirds of the field stayed in contention for most of the race, before multi-car crashes eliminated many contenders. Sterling Marlin triggered a multi-car wreck on the final lap that involved Bobby Allison, Joe Ruttman, Rick Wilson and Kyle Petty that allowed Bobby Hillin Jr. to take his only career victory, ahead of Tim Richmond and Rusty Wallace, driving in relief for Ricky Rudd.
- 1987: Bill Elliott sets a new stock car speed record with a lap of 212.809 mph (342.483 km/h). On the 22nd lap of the event, Bobby Allison loses an engine, and the debris from the motor cuts a tire as Allison enters the trioval. The cut tire causes Bobby to spin, and his car lifts off the ground, flying into the fence just short of the flagstand. Several fans were injured, including a woman who lost an eye from the flying debris. This incident brought about the restrictor plate into NASCAR.
- 1991: Ernie Irvan becomes the center of controversy at the Winston 500 after triggering "The Big One" on the backstretch on lap 71, eliminating about 20 cars. Mark Martin's car gets vertical and stands on its nose for a short time before coming back down on its wheels. Kyle Petty suffered a broken leg in the crash. Harry Gant won the race with hardly any fuel left, receiving a push from teammate Rick Mast on the final lap. In the DieHard 500, Ernie Irvan apologized to the drivers for the wrecks he had caused that season (one at Talladega, one at Pocono) and was wrecked by Buddy Baker later in the race, triggering a 14 car pileup. Dale Earnhardt held off a group of Fords to take the victory. Rick Mast would get upside down in the tri-oval late in the race, going for a long slide into the frontstretch grass.
- 1993: In a wild Winston 500, Ernie Irvan passes Dale Earnhardt on the final lap as the rest of the field battles behind them. Earnhardt would drift back to sixth, and coming through the tri-oval, Earnhardt would give Rusty Wallace a shove,sending Wallace airborne and flipping past the start/finish line. Two serious crashes marred the running of the 1993 DieHard 500. On the 70th lap of the race, Jimmy Horton gets tapped going into Turn 1, flipping over on the banking and going completely over the wall,the only time that has ever happened at Talladega (The only catchfences in place at the time were in front of the grandstands. As a result of this incident, fences were put around the remainder of the track). Stanley Smith is critically injured in the same crash. Later in the race, Neil Bonnett, in his first stock car race since 1990, goes for a wild ride, flipping end over end in the tri-oval. Neil was uninjured,and joined the CBS commentary team to call the end of the race,which was a close duel between Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan,with Earnhardt prevailing by .005 second.
- 1996: Dale Earnhardt takes a horrifying tumble down the front straightaway in "The Big One", being hit my multiple cars upside down and on the car's side. He ended up breaking his collarbone, and helped begin a winless streak that spanned the rest of the 1996 season and all of the 1997 season. The race is cut short due to the wreck, and a rainstorm earlier in the race, by darkness, with Jeff Gordon winning. With what happened, it helped push the DieHard 500 from the heat, humidity, and almost commonly occurring afternoon thunderstorms of late July to a much more cooler, and in the case of the weather, more stable early October date.
- 2000: Dale Earnhardt earns his final Winston Cup victory in spectacular fashion, by moving from 18th to 1st in just 4 laps to win the Winston 500.
- Spring 2001: Bobby Hamilton wins the first superspeedway race following the death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona two months earlier. The race was caution-free and run under the 2001 aerodynamics package which caused the cars to run in tighter packs than normal.
- Fall 2001: Dale Earnhardt Jr won the first of five victories at Talladega. "The Big One" happened on the final lap with Bobby Labonte going over on his roof. 16 cars were involved.
- 2002: In a Busch Series race, "The Big One" occurs on lap 15 when Scott Riggs up near the front got into Johnny Sauter (who flipped down the backstraightaway), triggering a 27-car crash, biggest in all of NASCAR history in the modern era. Most cars were so damaged or uncompetitive to a point, that drafting was almost non-existent. Only 3 cars finished on the lead lap, a rarity at most any NASCAR event today (especially on a large superspeedway), even for any other race that would otherwise be marred by "The Big One". It happened the following day too, with just a fewer amount of cars involved (24) with Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning.
- 2003: (Spring) Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his fourth consecutive race at Talladega. The spring race also featured a 27-car crash on lap 4 (of 188) caused by a blown tire from Ryan Newman; the largest crash in NASCAR Nextel Cup in the modern era, and nearly equaled what happened the previous year in a Busch Series race.
- 2003: (Fall) Elliott Sadler (polesitter) goes for a terrible tumble into turn three. This was the first plate race to have the field frozen at the moment of caution. Michael Waltrip wins his first Non-Daytona Cup win. A wreck occurred after the checkered flag, too.
- 2004: Jeff Gordon wins the Aaron's 499 in controversial fashion. Brian Vickers causes a caution after spinning while overtaking Dale Earnhardt Jr. with less than five laps remaining, freezing the field. A red flag could not be applied when fewer than five laps were remaining in the race when the caution waved, and there were about four and a third laps remaining. When NASCAR decides not to restart the race, owing to concerns of another incident similar to Rusty Wallace's terrifying 1993 crash on a two-lap shootout, and Mark Martin's injury in a one-lap shootout at Daytona in 1997. Fans littered the track with debris. This incident resulted in outrage by Fox commentator Chris Myers, and led to the July implementation of a green-white-checker rule.
- 2004: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins the EA Sports 500, but is penalized 25 points for violating NASCAR's policy on obscenity following an interview where he mentions to the pit reporter, "Well that (his fifth career Talladega win) don't mean shit right now, Daddy's won here ten times."
- 2005: Jeff Gordon won his second straight Aaron's 499 under the green-white-checker rule, and won despite a 25-car wreck (the third largest in the modern era) brought out the red flag on Lap 132, in which started when Mike Wallace bumped into Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson causing a chain reaction pile-up in Turn 1.
- 2006: Jimmie Johnson wins, holding off Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers at the Aaron's 499 on May 1, 2006 (the race had been delayed from Sunday to Monday).When he stepped out of the car, the interviewer told him he is an uncle of new born Connor Johnson. Several drivers were blamed for causing two multi-car crashes in the race.
- 2006: Brian Vickers wins under caution after bumping the car of teammate Jimmie Johnson into the car of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. during a last lap pass on the backstretch at the UAW-Ford 500 on October 8, 2006. In a repeat of the 2004 Aaron's 499, the fans expressed their disapproval of Junior not winning by tossing debris onto the track.
- Fall 2012: On the final lap, Tony Stewart makes a charge for the lead when he is hit by Michael Waltrip. Stewart would go airborne and twenty other cars would get involved. All the drivers were able to walk away, and Matt Kenseth wins the race.
- Spring 2013: The race was off to a great start onto rain began to fall. A three hour and forty six minute rain delay was held. After the track was cleared racing resumed. With six laps to go, Carl Edwards, Matt Kensith, and Jimmie Johnson were fighting for the lead. However, when the cars got to the backstretch, the racing began getting tight. A crash was triggered and the second "Big One" of the day began. Kurt Bush was hit by another car and his car flipped and barreled once before Ryan Newman's car stopped it from flipping more. All the drivers walked out of their cars un-harmed but Ryan Newman criticised NASCAR during his post race interview which may result in a fine.
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