TALLADEGA — On Wednesday crews were sprucing up the grounds surrounding Talladega Municipal Airport in preparation for a weekend of racing at Talladega Superspeedway.
The puttering sound of string trimmers and mowers will soon give way to the thunderous roar of jets landing at the airport and the rumble of racing at the nearby NASCAR track, which one can plainly see from the airport.
“It’s been a bad year for grass, we’ve had so much rain,” Jim Brock, Talladega Municipal Airport manager said Wednesday as race weekend approached.
The airport saw fewer aircraft land during the last three race weekends on account of the pandemic that affected crowd size, but now that crowds are expected to be about normal, the volume of aircraft will still be lower. The reason is connected tothe size of the planes themselves: The planes are getting bigger and they are carrying more people.
Brock said in the 1980s and 1990s up to 410 smaller jets would be parked anywhere available space permitted. This week, about 75 larger planes are expected to touchdown at the airport.
“It’s a totally different ballgame than what it was,” Brock said.
Ray Miller, Talladega Municipal Airport Board chairman, said NASCAR sold all its jets and now it rents larger planes to ferry the governing body of NASCAR from track to track.
Drivers, too, have mostly gone to the larger planes which can hold multiple crews and drivers, Miller said.
“I think what’s happening now, it’s a lot cheaper, cheaper for them to lease a jet,” Miller said.
During peak years of air traffic, Miller said, the Talladega airport was one the busiest airports in the country.
Miller said maintenance and improvements such as repaving, repairing and building new hangars happen every year at the airport, which also handles typical air traffic when races aren’t in town. The airport also had to increase the size of the parking areas to accommodate the larger planes.
After this race weekend, a $400,000 grant will enable to repave all the taxiways, some of which date back to WWII when the airport was a military training facility.
“Honda brings in a lot of freight into our airport and of course we have a lot of business people that fly in and out of there,” Miller said.
Another frequent airport customer is Legacy Cabinets located nearby in Eastaboga, Miller said.
“Overall it looks like it’s going to be another good race, a good crowd,” Miller said.
“This year the infield is already sold out, our campgrounds are filling up and ticket sales are really good,” he said.