While this week means family gatherings for the Thanksgiving holiday, college football regular-season finale games and the beginning of deer hunting season, it also marks the end of an era at NASCAR’s Most Competitive track – Talladega Superspeedway.
The historic venue, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, will say goodbye to a true family member – the patriarch of the 2.66-mile venue for the past 26-plus years, Chairman Grant Lynch, who will retire at week’s end.
The likeable, high-energy Lynch, who joined the Talladega Superspeedway staff in January of 1993, has since been one of the most respected individuals in the state of Alabama as well as in NASCAR for his countless contributions to so many during his tenure.
During his reign, Lynch has overseen many changes to the mammoth track, but he saved the best for last with the venue’s $50 million infield project, featuring the incredible fan-friendly Talladega Garage Experience, which debuted last month during the track’s NASCAR Playoffs doubleheader, receiving rave reviews.
Before Lynch makes his way into a deer stand this weekend, he wanted to share some of his memories with media and fans:
What are your plans after you retire?
“We’ll obviously I’m a huge outdoorsmen. I’m going to hunt and fish a lot and everything. I hope to travel some with Marsha and the girls and I look forward to that. I’m going to be on some boards going forward in the community and statewide, and I’ll be doing some of that as well.”
What is your proudest moment at ’DEGA?
“I’d say the proudest moment for me has been watching the team here take on the challenge of the Talladega Infield Experience and building the Talladega Garage Experience. To watch the team, and pretty much Brian Crichton (new Talladega Superspeedway President) leading the way in building a $50 million project…. It is by far the largest amount of money we’ve ever had to build a project at Talladega. And to watch the team work together during that really high tension 12 to 13 month period, and build what they did, and get it delivered on time and on budget is one of the true things that I’ve seen.
“And to see the drivers become involved almost immediately because they knew they were in something unique, that nothing had ever been done like this. And, I think it got them to interact with the fans in a very positive way. And, I think the drivers got into the fact that they were in something very unique, and we have created something where they can interact with the fans, but they can still get back and do what they need to do as well. So, I think it worked out great for the drivers and it certainly has worked out great for us and our fans.”
What is your most memorable on-track moment?
“If I was having to pick one race that probably [is] the greatest race that’s ever been held at Talladega, I don’t see how you could leave out Dale [Earnhardt] Sr.’s last victory here (October 2000) when he was running back in the low 20s and he was kind of in the pack back there and it was down to about five laps to go, and he was kind of jammed up. But I think Kenny Wallace got behind him and started pushing him up through the middle and he continued to move up, and within a couple of laps, he was actually leading the race. And, if you ever go back and watch the film (video), you can just hear the crowd start to murmur, and then it gets louder and then it gets louder. And, then finally, he gets to the front and goes into the lead and every single person in the grandstands is standing up and they’re yelling and they’re cheering. And, everybody that I talk to or everybody that gets to see this, [I tell them] you should watch that whole film (video). It was awesome to be part of that and to have Dale win, and that was his last victory because we lost him the next year when he was at Daytona. So, that to me is probably one of the most impressive victories I’ve ever seen here and I think the fans really, really enjoyed it.
“And, having Richard Childress, who is one of my best friends in the sport and has been for many, many years, and to see him bring back the No. 3 car this last race (Childress led the Cup field to green last month in the actual car that Earnhardt won here in 2000) we had, that’s going to be one of the things that I am going to remember for the rest of my life.”
How did the tradition of John Ray’s truck sporting the giant American flag during the National Anthem begin?
“Well, it was right after [9/11 in] 2001. He [John Ray, an avid supporter of the track and former Cup Series driver in the 1970s who is a long-time member of the track’s volunteer service club – the White Flag Club] said he wanted to get a flag that he could put on the back of his Peterbilt, and he wanted to become part of the pre-race activities at the start when we do the National Anthem. And, to say that’s probably one of the most iconic things that happens each race day at Talladega would be an understatement. And, I think anybody who’s ever been in our stadium for the start of the race, if that flag coming down the frontstretch doesn’t touch your heart and mean something to you, then you’re not pumping red blood or something. It moves me every time I see it, and I think it does that for a whole lot of people in those grandstands as well.”
What’s the story of the Talladega Superspeedway long-billed hat that you have worn for so many years?
“I guess the long-billed hat stems from all the way back when I was a little kid and my daddy started taking me hunting and fishing at a very early age, and he wore a big billed fishing hat. And, so when I’d been here a while, and of course hats are synonymous with NASCAR and everything else, I decided ‘well I want a hat.’ And so I said ‘well I’m just going to build me a big billed hat.’ And about that time we started saying “This is more than a race… this is Talladega”, and so I decided that’s what I was going to put on my hat, the big billed hat. It’s kind of become my trademark.”
What’s the origin of “This is more than a race…this is Talladega”?
“It’s one of those situations where the saying just started and it kind of built upon itself, and I certainly have enjoyed my part of when I do the “This is Talladega” with the fans [in pre-race] if you all ever were down there with me and a lot of you all were. You know, it just got me pumped up, and I think the fans enjoyed being part of the pre-race activities as well.”
What’s it like having a movie [Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby] & song [Talladega by Eric Church] made during your time at Talladega?
“Talladega has its own unique personality, and I think that attracts people, and whether it’s Will Ferrell or Eric Church, with Talladega Nights, it’s kind of unique that while I was here, we got to see both those things come to fruition.”
What is your final message to the fans?
“Come back! We’ve built a $50 million project in our infield. We built it for you. You’re going to be able to do things here in the Talladega Garage Experience that can’t be duplicated right now at any other facility. A lot of that has to do with the fact with us having so much square footage to work with we can do things that are just bigger and better than everybody else. BIG BILL’S social club is AWESOME, you have to come see it. I mean, to name something after the patriarch of the sport and to have it be such a hit as it was for our first race when we used it, I think that says something about his vision of building a race track in Eastaboga, AL [in 1969].”
Talladega Superspeedway kicks off its 2020 season on April 24-26 with a tripleheader featuring the GEICO 500 (NASCAR Cup Series), the MoneyLion 300 (NASCAR Xfinity Series) and General Tire 200 (ARCA Menards Series). It will be the spring introduction of the Talladega Garage Experience. Ticket information to see if this year’s first-time Talladega winners’ Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney can capture win number two is available online at www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or by calling (855) 518-RACE (7223).