“We’re here with 50,000 of our closest friends,” Robertsdale resident Chuck McKinley said Wednesday morning.
Chuck and Susan McKinley are attending the race with theirs friends Mike and Carrie Barnhill of Tuscaloosa, and their two greyhounds Striker and Jynx and are camping on the infield in a travel trailer.
McKinley said he enjoyed dirt racing at home and won a title in 1992. He quit working as an auto mechanic and became a paramedic. Now he handles calls for 911.
The McKinley’s converted an ambulance and use it to store things and pull their travel trailer.
“It takes about two weeks to get prepared,” McKinley said.
McKinley said he first started attending races at Talladega when his wife “dragged” him to the race.
“It is awesome,” Susan said.
She recalled her initial thrill that got her hooked.
“It was all 40 cars going down the backstretch the first time,” she said. “I just put my hands on the fence and hang on.”
Chuck said, “The horsepower, the vibration, on the backstretch, it’s like a sledge hammer.”
Barnhill said he began watching races on television 20 years ago. His first race was Jeff Gordon’s first race in Atlanta. Barnhill said he and his wife have attended Talladega with the McKinleys the last two years and if he suggests coming without Carrie, she threatens to divorce him.
Both the McKinleys and Barnhills said an important part of the experience is the many friends they meet while camping.
McKinley said he has attended races at Bristol, Atlanta, Charlotte and others in the southeast, but of them all Talladega is the best. “It is the people and the social gathering.”
McKinley said that although he brings food and other items, he could come without anything and other “campers will take care of you.”
Barnhill said, “You can be on the way to the shower and people will ask you if you need food or anything to drink.”
Another group became friends after meeting at the race. States represented included Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Indiana.
Barbara Jackson said she has traveled all over, including Guam and Jakarta, but the event in Talladega was “the biggest redneck party ever.”
Ricky and Joyce Clark from Opp are attending their seventh race. They both said they enjoy the atmosphere, the people and meeting new people.
Joyce said her favorite driver is Kasey Kahne and Rick said he likes Danica Patrick.
From their position, they watch the race from Turn two, but with friends at another location they can watch from Turn three.
Across the road from the racetrack is a free camping area.
Gathered under a canopy around a cable spool turned into a table were Rick Human of Birmingham, brothers Lenn and Michael Trimble of Cullman, and Don Hanson of North Pole, Alaska.
Human said, “Over in the infield are the high-class fans; we are the rednecks.”
Human said the group all met at the Talladega race. He said this year’s group is down from 25 to about 15.
The Trimble brothers said they have followed NASCAR all their lives,
Hanson said he drove his motor home from the North Pole to attend the races. He said he’s been following NASCAR since 1963 when stationed in the south while serving in the Air Force.
Hanson said he believes Talladega is better because there is more action on the superspeedway-type of track at Talladega.
Hanson also said, “The wives are fans, too, but I think they come primarily to keep the guys straight.”
The Brinkman’s are from the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minn. and traveled in a motor home.
Gaylen and his mother Marlys both became interested in NASCAR by attending races at the state fair in the 60s. Wife Julie said she was drawn to NASCAR through her sons Daniel, 17, and Mitchell, 14. Mitchell and Daniel keep up with NASCAR by watching TV.
Julie said this was their second year to attend Talladega.
“This year we came back with more,” she said.
Julie said when they first arrived last year, other campers said they were worried when they drove up in a BMW.
“But when the first thing I got out was a cooler of beer they said we were OK,” Gaylen said. “They were really impressed when I left and came back with a load of wood in my car.”
“People are friendly and it is a nice atmosphere. We can leave our cooler and things out and not worry about anyone taking them,” Brickman said.
Contact Mark Ledbetter at firstname.lastname@example.org