More than 250 race fans flocked to Talladega Superspeedway Saturday to participate in a “Fan Track Drive” fundraising benefiting a local American Red Cross chapter.
The event, coordinated by approximately 10 volunteers from the American Red Cross Talladega/St. Clair Chapter and more than two dozen Superspeedway employees, offered fans a chance to either drive their own vehicles around the 2.66-mile track for a $50 donation or take a ride in one of the official pace cars for a $100 donation.
“We could’ve used a whole lot more,” Talladega/St. Clair Chapter executive director Peggy Mann said. “But we’re very pleased with the turnout. The Talladega Superspeedway has always been supportive of the Red Cross, and they always want to know what they can do to help. Without partners like the Talladega Superspeedway, we would have a very difficult time in supporting our mission.”
Russell Branham, director of public relations for the Superspeedway, pointed out a wide variety of vehicles brought to the track — everything from Porsches to Ferraris.
“It almost has seemed like a car show out here today because we’ve seen so many types of ‘cool’ cars that you normally don’t see out on the road all the time,” Branham said. “The fun part for a car enthusiast is to come out here and just get a feel of what their sports-type car feels like on the biggest, baddest race track on the planet.”
He added each driver’s level of excitement has been pretty high following their two-lap trips around the track.
“We’ve had a lot of guys come out and say it’s been a huge rush to them — a high — to be able to know they can bring their vehicle out here and get in on this historical race track known for its speed and so many great finishes in NASCAR’s history,” Branham said. “It’s a thrill for them to be here and have their automobile on the race track.”
Fred Gilbert, a Homewood native enrolled in a graduate-level physical therapy program at University of Alabama at Birmingham, brought two of his classmates and a friend from Atlanta to experience the unique opportunity in his maroon 2002 Chevy Silverado.
“You don’t really realize how steep those banks are until you get on them in your pickup truck,” Gilbert said. “It was cool. You see (the drivers) do it every Sunday, and now you get to experience what it’s like.”
Pensacola natives Ted Morgan and Bill Neitzel plopped down plenty of cash for the experience, with seven trips around in the driver’s seat and nearly half as many from the pace car perspective.
“You could feel the G-forces when you’re hitting that low turn and coming through there at about 120 mph,” Morgan said. “We were driving through at about 90 or so, and you could feel it. At 90, you really feel how that track angle is because the car keeps wanting to drift down the track. A couple of times when we were trying to catch up and get up a little closer to 100, the car stays down the track. It doesn’t try to keep coming down as much.”
Neitzel insisted the more than five-hour drive to the track was well worth the cost since the proceeds will benefit the local Red Cross chapter, part of a national organization he’s seen provide aid firsthand.
“The Red Cross helps Pensacola out after every hurricane,” Neitzel said. “After Hurricane Ivan, they fed us. For nine days, we were without power, and the Red Cross was there giving us food and water.”
Morgan and Neitzel come to the race with friends every fall. He said his affinity toward the track made the decision to drive up and donate easy.
“We love the track, so this was a no-lose situation,” Morgan said.