TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY — A panel of NASCAR and state government representatives announced a $50 million “transformation” of the infield at the Talladega Superspeedway during a press conference Thursday afternoon.
The additions and renovations are set to coincide with the track’s 50th anniversary next year. According to TSS President Grant Lynch, the project will take the Talladega experience “to another level.”
Work is expected to begin after the fall race this year and should be complete by the 2019 fall race, just in time for the 50th anniversary. A new logo for the 50th anniversary was unveiled at the press conference as well.
The transformation will be the biggest construction project in the track’s history, creating a 140,000-square-foot Garage Fan Zone experience, including four Monster Energy Drink garages, Gatorade Victory Lane and the 600-seat Paddock Club, Lynch said.
The new facilities will “give the hundreds of thousands of fans who annually make the journey to central Alabama the chance to get closer than ever to NASCAR’s top drivers and teams via a fan walkway under the same roof as the race car bays in the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage,” according to a press release made available at the event.
“Add to it a unique 35,000 square foot covered Open Air Club, complete with ample seating, a bar and a 41-foot diagonal video screen, (and) entertainment enthusiasts will be able to immerse themselves in the sport and witness the teams and drivers as the cars are prepped in the garage stalls for three- and four-wide racing.”
The Garage Fan Zone Experience will also feature extensive social and engagement areas with Wi-Fi, two new concession stands, restroom complexes, a guest services center and a first aid facility.
“The new Gatorade Victory Lane will offer fans from the grandstands, as well as those in the Garage Fan Zone Experience, a closer view of the winners who rewrite Talladega’s history,” the press release says. “A two-level Paddock Club, with seating for more than 600 guests, will be located near the end of pit road.
“Other amenities will include four 25-person garage suites and four garage offices. The current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series garage will be used for NASCAR Xfinity Series teams during the spring event weekend and the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in the fall.”
Also on tap will be some 300 new RV spaces, all with power and water hookups, in two different areas. The first will have a view of the Alabama Gang Superstretch, while the other will be near the start/finish line.
“The new locations will offer premium opportunities to experience the world-famous Talladega infield, in which RV spaces have been filled to capacity months in advance for the past seven straight event weekends,” the release says. “Current infield RV areas, including those on the legendary Talladega Boulevard, will remain the same.”
In addition, the project will also include a two-lane, oversized vehicle tunnel under turn three that will allow 24-hour entrance and exit for all vehicles, including RVs; a tram route that will deliver fans to the GFZE entrance; infield premium parking options; infield shower options in turns one and two; an expanded drivers meeting location; a renovated media center; and a race operations building “erected high atop the tri-oval that will house race control, live TV booths for Fox, NBC, Motor Racing Network and public address,” Lynch said.
DLR Group designed the project, and Hoar Construction of Birmingham is the preconstruction contractor.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey spoke at length about the importance of tourism to the state’s economy, with a particular focus on the superspeedway and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
In 2017, Ivey said, the track had an economic impact of $435 million, including $167 million in payroll and 8,300 jobs. That same year, she said, the track was responsible for $25 million going into the state Education Trust Fund Budget.
Some 26 million people visited the state of Alabama in 2017, an increase of nearly 800,000 over the previous year, she continued, many of them drawn to the state by racing and other motorsports as well as the IMHOF.
Travel and tourism contributed $14.3 billion and 7,400 jobs. The hospitality industry contributed $627 million in state taxes last year and $251 million in local taxes. The lodging tax contributed $70 million to the state economy, with 75 percent of that going into the state general fund, the governor said.
International Speedway Corporation President Joie Chitwood and NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton also spoke about the unique fan experiences and global renown of the Talladega Superspeedway, as did Richard Childress of Richard Childress Racing and his grandson, driver Austin Dillon.
State Sen. President Pro Tempore Del Marsh also spoke, pointing out the track’s economic impact was felt most strongly in Talladega, St. Clair and Calhoun counties and noting that some 70 percent of race fans coming to Talladega are from out of state.
Reaction from local officials was unanimously positive.
State Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, described the announcement as “fantastic, a dream come true. It’s not just a great thing for my district, but for the state as a whole. It helps us grow and it brings in tourists and tax money. We are known all over the world.”
Hurst added he was especially proud that “I watched them build this facility. I watched from the time the motor graders first started pushing dirt to the first race they had here.”
People recognize the name Talladega wherever he goes, he says.
Talladega County Board of Education member Johnny Ponder said the announcement “would have a huge impact on the county, and not just the schools. I know with everything going on, they still have to fill the seats, and I know there will be ups and downs. But I believe this will add to ticket sales, and I can’t wait for it to come about. The fans, all race fans, really do love Talladega, and I think they will love this even more.”
Talladega County Commissioner Tony Haynes said the announcement was “the biggest thing we’ve had here in a good while, and we’ve gotten a lot of good news lately, what with Honda expanding and Georgia-Pacific coming back.”
Fellow Commissioner Jackie Swinford added, “Anytime you’ve got someone creating jobs in our county, you have to look at the multiplier factor as well. Money is generated and spent here, which allows the county to expand services, create more jobs and help people. Which is why we are so thankful for people like the ones at the track, at GP and at Honda.”
Swinford added his father took him to his first job when the track was being built. Swinford said he was digging ditches at the site when he was in seventh grade.
Lincoln City Councilwoman Sadie Britt said Thursday’s announcement would “have a great impact for the city of Lincoln and for the community. I’m happy to see all the growth. I really am overwhelmed. This will have such an impact on our city, our county and our state.”
Talladega Mayor Jerry Cooper agreed, saying, “This is going to be a great asset to our area, not just in Talladega, but in Oxford, Anniston and Birmingham, too. I’m really excited. We’ve got a lot going on, we’ve got building at Talladega College, a revitalized downtown coming along and Georgia Pacific and Honda are expanding, too. It’s an exciting time.”