A Look Back at Talladega's History - Ken Rush, The Original Champ
The history of every great racetrack begins with its first champion. While others may reach victory lane more times or earn bigger paychecks, one will always be the envy of other drivers because they were the first. For Talladega Superspeedway, Ken Rush is the original.
Prior to the first Talladega 500, now the AMP Energy 500, there was the Bama 400, a Grand Touring race held on Saturday, September 13, 1969. The entry sheet read like a car collector’s wish list; Camaros, Mustangs, Firebirds, Javelins, Darts and Cougars, 40 in all, started the race.
Ken Rush, a veteran of the sportsman and modified ranks, was one of the drivers competing on the newly opened 2.66 mile tri-oval. He was NASCAR’s 1957 Rookie of the Year and a two-time Bowman Gray Stadium champion (1964 & 1966), but nothing could have prepared him for the high banks of Talladega.
“I thought I would never get to the end of the straight-aways, especially that backstretch,” said Rush.
While much of the talk during the weekend focused on concerns over tire wear, Rush said he had no such worries.
“I remember that really well. The tire situation really didn’t bother me at all. We were there to race. My car owner Johnny Wheeler said we were going to run and we did. We never even changed tires. We ran 400 miles on the same tires.”
When the green flag waived on the Bama 400, Rush didn’t push his 1968 Camaro very hard. He laid back in the pack until lap 97 when he sprinted out to the lead. He held that position for the remaining 54 laps to finish with an average speed of 156.271 mph. His prize for first place? A hardy $7,450.
“I always like to say I was born 40 years too soon,” Rush lamented. “You know when we were racing, we did it for fun. You just couldn’t make any money racing back then. But we sure had fun.”
While Rush raced for fun, he also made history as the first champion of Talladega Superspeedway.
Race fans can experience part of Talladega’s history this fall, during the 40th running of the AMP Energy 500 weekend, Oct. 3-5. Visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 1-877-Go2-DEGA. For our hearing impaired guests, please call TDD 1-866-ISC-TRAK (1-866-472-8725). Tickets also are available in person by visiting the Talladega Superspeedway Ticket Office from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. CDT, Monday- Friday.