The road leading up to the Talladega Superspeedway is lined with folks peddling wood, tickets and crawfish.
Much like the contours of the greens at the Masters golf tournament, television — if it shows the Speedway Boulevard vendors — doesn’t do it justice.
“I was amazed,” said Pat Bates, a fan from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “We came in five-thirty, six in the morning and there were people selling wood for it seemed like miles.”
From Monday to Sunday, signs announced “$10 for 20 sticks,” “we got dry wood,” “fire wood” and “I Need Tickets.” Yes, when a man who would only identify himself as “Mr. McDaniel” went off to work earlier this week as a wood peddler at the races, he didn’t leave for days. One of the few times he wasn’t working the roadside was about a 20-hour stretch between Friday and Saturday McDaniel spent catching up on sleep.
McDaniel and his truck-driving buddy, who owns the wood operations, serve another unique aspect of Talladega Superspeedway races: the tens of thousands of folks camping out in RVs and tents across from the track all week.
When one thinks about it, where else are the tens of thousands of people camping out around the track going to buy firewood? Certainly they don’t tote a few truckloads along.
McDaniel, whose family is from Randolph County, was camped out with a truck and small fire pit for warmth early Sunday morning, the only wood peddler awake and selling in the cold air. His friend responsible for the patch of roadside recently left, he said.
McDaniel’s between jobs right now and decided to help his buddy out and earn a little bit of money to give his three kids gloves, bats and balls.
This year has been a little slow, McDaniel said. Normally he and his truck-driving buddy are sold out of wood by Sunday.
They came out with only about as much wood as his friend could cut and collect in the months leading up to the race, McDaniel said. They’re sort of opportunistic loggers, he explained. If a tree falls, his truck-driving friend goes to clean up.
“It’s just a hobby of his,” McDaniel said. “Some people like fishing, he likes chopping wood.”
Only a few hollow towers of carefully stacked logs were left. They had prime real estate, the first spot a wood peddler could occupy after getting off the interstate.
The arrangement is open-ended but does have a general outline. Peddlers line up wherever they can between the track property and some private property bumping up against the interstate exit, McDaniel said. They even buy business licenses from the city of Lincoln for the time they’re there, the cost increasing from $175 at his position near the exit ramp to about $300 closer to the track.
Not to say they were restricted to the proximity of the track.
Bates and his crew of friends ran into some at the nearby Home Depot and Walmart stores, where they bought plywood and supplies to build a porch on top of their RV. He couldn’t recall where they bought the roughly $200 worth of wood and a the bucket they used to burn it in.
The money McDaniel makes goes to his family, he said. He said he didn’t drink while he was hawking the lumber and the long hours were tough. But he’s got to go off to work however he can to make ends meet.
“I got three kids, man,” McDaniel said.
Contact staff writer Jason Bacaj at 256-235-3645