TALLADEGA, AL – Mike Helton’s annual travel itinerary includes, among several other destinations, 36 stops at tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. As Vice Chairman of NASCAR, Helton has collected memories everywhere – from Auto Club Speedway to Watkins Glen International. Two weekends each season, however, are circled on his loaded calendar: The Spring and Fall Classics at Talladega Superspeedway.
Named General Manager, and later track President, of the mammoth 2.66 tri-oval in 1988, it’s easy to understand why one of the most recognizable names and faces in the sport has a soft spot for his trips to eastern Alabama. During the April 29-May 1 Tripleheader weekend headlined by the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500, Helton will be in his element, at his favorite track.
“Long before we had the opportunity to be a part of the community, Talladega was always my favorite racetrack,” said Helton who left Talladega in 1993 to join NASCAR. “And, it still is.” The Bristol, Virginia native first visited NASCAR’s biggest and baddest track as a young fan in 1969. Nearly twenty years down the road, his stint as a professional on the rise still had a deep and profound impact later on he, his wife Lynda, and two children Rich and Tina, as proven by Mike’s continued words of affection.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but the stretch at Talladega was the most impactful I think that I and our family have had in our whole career,” he said, later adding that the Helton clan speaks highly of their time as Alabama residents during holidays and family gatherings, and that “everybody hangs their hats on Talladega.”
Earlier this year, Helton returned to the area to speak at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Shocco Springs Conference Center in Talladega, located just over ten miles from the entrance to the Superspeedway.
Helton will find no shortage of track activity on his upcoming visit during the first of two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekends here in 2016. The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards General Tire 200 is set for Friday, April 29, with the NASCAR XFINITY Series Sparks Energy 300 taking the green flag on Saturday, April 30, and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series capping off what is expected to be a wild weekend on Sunday, May 1.
“Coming to Talladega, I’m excited,” Helton said. “I want to get there a day early because I know where I am.”
The anticipated weekend kicks off on Friday, April 29, with practice sessions for the Sparks Energy 300 and GEICO 500, as well as practice, qualifying and the drop of the green flag for the General Tire 200 at 5 p.m. CDT. Saturday’s schedule includes qualifying for the GEICO 500 as well as time trials and the start of the Sparks Energy 300 at 2 p.m. CDT. Later that evening, Big & Rich featuring Cowboy Troy, will headline the traditional Infield Concert. Country Music’s best-kept secret, Eric Lee Beddingfield, is set to open the event at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free with a GEICO 500 ticket. The GEICO 500 race Sunday is set for a 12:00 p.m. (CDT) start.