Despite the fragile nature of the tents, many race fans didn’t seem fazed by the threat of inclement weather looming. With thunderstorms rolling into the area late Friday night and into this morning, the philosophy appeared to center around simply securing everything as well as possible.
“It was like this for the Spring race in 2005,” said Andi Gade of Bon Secour. “Storms came through real bad, but they got it in. We’ll just lower the tarps, take the flags down and get in the truck if we have too. That’s all we can do.”
Strong storms were expected in East Central Alabama today. High winds and possible tornadic activity are a high possibility thanks to a cold front pushing into the area.
Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch acknowledged it would be a logistical nightmare to get 45-50,000 fans who are already ensconced at the speedway to leave before today’s Aaron’s 312.
That fact played a key role in Friday’s decision not to postpone the Nationwide race despite a threat of severe weather that included possible tornadic activity.
“That was part of the issue,” Lynch said after Friday’s announcement. “They wouldn’t leave, so that was a big part of our decision.”
Ricky Ivy of Meridian, Miss., said he and his wife, Gina, would simply “wait it out.”
“We hope it doesn’t get that bad,” Ivy said.
Scott Unger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham, said he was concerned about getting the word out to “get people to realize what is coming.”
“There’s going to be a major potential for a large tornadic outbreak,” Unger said Friday afternoon.
Unger said the severe weather alerts would be in effect from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. today. He said the fact there will likely be sunshine today could pose a problem.
“The problem is if folks become complacent,” he said. “Storms can quickly come on track. It could be a dangerous situation with a big, open environment with no shelters. It’s a dangerous environment.”
Lynch, along with NASCAR’s vice president of communications Jim Hunter, announced to the media that it would be “business as usual” today at the track. Rumors that NASCAR would go ahead and postpone the Aaron’s 312 and reschedule it for Monday didn’t play out, although weather could still cause a problem.
Lynch said track and NASCAR officials had three meetings on Friday with representatives from the NWS and the Alabama Highway Patrol, as well as Talladega city and county officials — including police and emergency services.
“There’s the possibility of severe weather, but there’s also the possibility of sunshine,” Hunter said. “We’ll meet again today at 8 a.m.”
Lynch called the looming tornado threat “not that unusual” for what has been seen at other Spring races at Talladega.
Fans are encouraged to stay in the know throughout the day to ensure their safety. Lynch said the speedway would utilize several different streams of communication to reach the fans with information.
“We have an e-mail communication stream, and we touch a lot of customers,” Lynch said. “We have a lot of radios going out. Newspapers will do some of it for us (this) morning. We have a lot of different mediums.”
Some race teams have relocated team planes, but for the most part, just took a “batten down the hatch” approach.
“I’ve got tie-downs,” Sprint Cup driver Matt Kenseth joked before the announcement. “I’m just going to tie the bumpers down and ride it out.”
Carl Edwards expressed concern for his family but said he had his plane in a hangar and said that would be sufficient. He said running the race on Monday, if inclement weather does force the race to be rescheduled, wouldn’t be an issue.
“No, it’s fine,” Edwards said. “I’ll race Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, whatever day we want to race. My guys feel the same way. We have a fast enough car over there. The big thing is the severity of the weather. You have 100,000 people here without a lot of shelter, so hopefully, everyone’s smart about that, and hopefully, we don’t have any trouble there.”