Talladega really is more than a race, it’s a life-long experience

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(Editor note: Cover photo courtesy of Talladega Superspeedway)

By Chris Allen Brown/Associate Editor

Sometimes there’s just a song that hits you. And the more you listen, the faster it races home.

Eric Church’s 2014 hit single “Talladega” was wrote about as far from Talladega Superspeedway — Albany, New York — as one can get. But as Church and Luke Laird, the song’s co-writer, watched the Coke Zero 400 (from Daytona International Speedway in Florida) from Church’s tour bus outside the Times Union Center — home of the 2014 WGNA Countryfest — something clicked inside the Granite Falls, North Carolina native.

Something that clicked inside of me nearly 20 years ago.

“It’s about that experience, whatever that is: the experience with the person next to you and knowing that that’s probably a finite time in your life,” Church told Billboard Country in October 2014. “It’s not going to last forever.”

As a toddler during the 1990s, my grandfather worked security at Talladega Superspeedway. The two highlights I vaguely remember is receiving an autograph from Mark Martin — my then favorite driver — and my grandfather trying to sneak my family into a race, a race which was ultimately won by Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

But that’s where it began; that’s when a tradition was born.

Throughout the next decade, NASCAR was the common ground for me, my grandfather and my dad. Every Sunday, some combination of that trio would be sitting in front of a television as those cars rolled on. I remember pulling out a tooth during a Pocono race and staying up late on a Sunday night watching the Coca-Cola 600.

Then there was Talladega. The track that rests 35 minutes from a blue-roofed house I’ve called home for as long as I can remember. It was going to be my “home track” when I broke onto the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series circuit — then the Winston Cup when I was a kid — but the existent of my racing career was left to “what ifs” and video games.

Twice a year, my entire family gathered around a big-screen television while hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on the grill. I’d have an AMP Energy Drink in one hand as the other fist pumped as Dale Earnhardt, Jr., led the field around and around and around.

“Like a stone, time rolls on / You can’t hit pause, that’s just the deal / Most days in life don’t stand out / But life’s about those days that will”

As time passed, those moments drove further away. With no red flag in sight, the distance between smiles and memories grew wider. It was no one’s fault; time rolls on and you can’t hit pause.

But recently, NASCAR has been one of the common grounds between me and my best friends, Blaire and Nathan Fulmer. Blaire, like myself, grew up watching races with her dad. Nathan coasted through last year’s “pick ‘em” due to Martin Truex, Jr., winning — what felt like — every race.

A few years ago, the three of us attended a race a Talladega. I couldn’t tell you who won or what month the race was in. But what I can tell you about are the memories: waking up at 7:00 A.M., playing cornhole as the Alabama sun was breaking and playing a game to pass the time.

(There were a lot more Jimmie Johnson shirts at that race than I would’ve initially thought.)

That’s what Eric Church intended to write about when he penned “Talladega.” He wanted listeners to be able to close their eyes and think about being shoulder to shoulder with your best friends, your children or even complete strangers.

“We were laughing and living, drinking and wishing / And thinking as that checkered flag was waving / Sure would like to stay in, Talladega.”

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