You could say that pre-race dignitaries come in all shapes and sizes at Talladega Superspeedway. From big strapping quarterbacks to the most polished politicians, some unique personalities have made appearances at NASCAR’s Most Competitive Track.
In 1972, Auburn football coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan served as Grand Marshal for the Winston 500 (now Aaron’s 499). A few years later, Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, the former Alabama football star made his first appearance as Honorary Starter of the 1975 Winston 500. After that first appearance, Stabler made several repeat visits to Talladega, serving as both Honorary Starter and in 2007, the Grand Marshal of the ARCA RE/Max Series 250.
Governors have also played a role in pre-race activities at Talladega Superspeedway. Former Governor George Wallace was nearly a permanent fixture at Talladega during the early years of the track, while Governors Guy Hunt and Jim Folsom were Grand Marshals for the 1989 DieHard 500 and 1993 Winston 500 respectively. Current Alabama Governor Bob Riley waved the green flag to start the 2003 Aaron’s 499. Some politicians have even come from out of state to participate at Talladega. The Honorable James Thompson, former Governor of Illinois, served as Grand Marshal for the 1985 Talladega 500.
Some other unique personalities that have held honorary positions at Talladega:
- Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers was Grand Marshal for the 1973 Talladega 500.
- Hank Williams Jr., the country music legend, served as Honorary Starter for the 1977 Talladega 500.
- The World’s Strongest Man, Paul Anderson, was Honorary Starter for the 1978 Winston 500.
- John Mecom, Jr, former owner of the New Orleans Saints, was Grand Marshal for the 1980 Talladega 500.
- US Senator Jim Sasser from Tennessee kicked off the 1988 Winston 500 as Grand Marshal.
- Astronaut “Buzz” Aldrin put a unique twist on his Grand Marshal duties for the 1994 DieHard 500, commanding the drivers to “Energize their ground craft.”
- Chris Economaki, the former editor and publisher of National Speed Sport News, was the Grand Marshal for the 1995 DieHard 500.
- 2004 Miss America Ericka Dunlap served as Grand Marshal of the 2003 EA Sports 500.
- Funnyman Will Ferrell got the crowd fired up before telling the drivers to fire it up as Grand Marshal of the 2006 Aaron’s 499.
The Honorary Starter for the 2008 AMP Energy was recently announced as professional golfer Boo Weekley. Tickets to see Weekley and the AMP Energy 500 are available at www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or by calling 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.