The bill of his cap. Silly, but that’s what I’m always going to remember.
Talladega Superspeedway had gotten uncomfortable with the perception that it had become a 200-mph demolition derby, that its fans made a bike rally in Sturgis look like vacation bible school.
Grant Lynch went out and ordered a bunch of baseball caps with bills so exaggerated you could hold a tailgate party underneath one. And on the bill, he printed “Size Matters.”
Lynch, the Chairman of Talladega Superspeedway, the biggest track in NASCAR, wasn’t afraid of the image. In his quarter-century at the track, he embraced it. Few people who have come through the gates of any superspeedway have been more aware that racing is a serious, gazillion-dollar business, what with the resume he built.
Only a small few of those people knew as instinctively, as inventively as Lynch, that it’s also fun.
It’s now the last lap of his career. Sunday brings Lynch’s last race at Talladega, and November 30 brings his official retirement date.
If the winning driver has any ounce of sentimentality, he’ll hand Lynch the checkered flag in Victory Lane. It’ll look good on the wall of what Lynch modestly calls a “man cave” and what the rest of us might call Heaven’s Rec Room. Sixty feet of boat storage on two acres of fenced-in land along the Gulf Coast, with 1,600-square foot den area in two boat bays. A good, quick getaway for fishing and duck hunting.
Lynch got his start in this business with R.J. Reynolds, back in the days of Winston Cup, when stacks of cigarettes were piled in the media center instead of bowls of peanut butter cups and chocolate bars.
He managed R.J. Reynolds’ involvement with NASCAR, then joined Talladega in 1993 when Mike Helton moved up the NASCAR masthead. He juggled his Talladega duties with roles at International Speedway Corporations in opening the new speedways at Kansas and Chicagoland, and made 70 flights to Seattle in two years to champion a NASCAR track in the northwest, an effort that fell victim to the 2008 recession and state politics, not necessarily in that order.
Not to make this sound like too much of eulogy, Lynch leaves behind a collection of friends you’d be hard pressed to fit in the frontstretch grandstands. He leaves behind a team he has masterfully constructed. He leaves behind employers who all but gush over him.
“Grant is one of the most spirited and beloved characters in our sport and has been a perfect fit to head Talladega Superspeedway for more than half of the track’s existence,” said International Speedway Corporation Chief Executive Officer Lesa France Kennedy. “He has always put his heart and soul into the success of the track, the sport of NASCAR, the local community and the state of Alabama.”
“Grant has been a driving force in the motorsports industry for more than 30 years and we have benefitted immensely from his leadership,” said John Saunders, president of International Speedway Corporation, in a statement provided by NASCAR public relations.
Lynch also leaves behind a completed project that has rejuvenated and modernized the Talladega infield. A legacy project?
Laughing, Lynch said, “It’s somewhat ironic we got the big money the last year of my career.”
What I’ve come to realize when it comes to speedways, size matters not in the length of a track, but in the heart and soul and effort and imagination that is poured into it. In that regard, Talladega is also as big a track as there is.
“It’s big and it’s bold and it’s what we are,” Lynch said. “That’s very important. We don’t try to put on airs. We just run races and bring people here and let ‘em have a good time.”
Veteran sports columnist Mark McCarter is a special contributor to The Anniston Star. Contact him at email@example.com.