Monday, July 12, 2010

Heroes and Heartache - A Fan’s Experience at Talladega

100_2466 I got to spend a day at Talladega with some friends of mine. It was a day of great emotion in so many ways. I sat down to try and put into words just how it felt to be at a race track like Talladega, a place I never dreamed I’d get to see up close. What followed was a day of emotions and an experience I will never forget.
I’ve never been any place NASCAR-related other than Phoenix International Raceway so when I took a vacation on the East Coast, I knew that I had to make it out to some of the nearby racetracks while I was there. I was right in between two of NASCAR’s most famous tracks - Atlanta Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Perhaps the most incredible part of my journey was that I got to head to two places I never thought I’d get to see in person and visiting a place I had researched for an article in April. 
100_2335There I stood at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Alabama, in awe. So much history of the sport I love wrapped up in that place. I saw firesuits belonging to some of the greats, wrecked cars, checkered flags, Winston Cup trophies. It was almost too much, I didn’t know where to begin. There were times I had to just stand there and take it all in. I was there in the place where Dale Earnhardt was so beloved and won so many races and the place where Davey Allison’s tragic crash happened.

Davey Allison’s car in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame & Museum
I didn’t become a fan of the sport until 2004 but ask anyone who knows me that I can definitely become emotional about certain things. I could appreciate the emotion of being at Talladega just a week before the anniversary of Davey’s death. Being there with my fiancé, Aaron, and my good friend Sharon was a great experience but we all had our moments when we wandered off to be alone with our thoughts.
It may sound silly but even though I never got to watch him race, I’ve always felt a strong connection to Dale Earnhardt. Few things in life have rendered me speechless but I can honestly say there are no words for what I felt most of that day, July 6th 2010, wandering through the Hall of Fame and visiting Davey’s memorial.
As Aaron wrote recently, I almost felt afraid to smile or laugh when we were in that museum. I didn’t think it was appropriate when I wandered into the Dale Earnhardt  gallery and after that, I was very well overcome with emotion. There were moments when I giggled but for the most part, I was enraptured in the moment, just being there at that racetrack, the place where so much history had been made. 

The Dale Earnhardt Gallery
A ride around the track cost us $12 along with admission to the museum and hall of fame but the experience of being there just cannot be purchased. I knew Aaron would be emotional but I had not counted on tearing up myself when the tour guide brought up Davey’s tragic crash at the speedway. There were a lot of things I hadn’t counted on that day. And if I didn’t think I would get emotional about hearing about Davey’s accident, I didn’t think I’d get as choked up as I did later in the evening when visiting his memorial.
My first experience at the Davey Allison Memorial wasn’t strongly moving. I enjoyed taking it in, the trees, flag, Davey’s star, the Walk of Fame. It was very beautiful and I enjoyed walking around with Sharon just to see the plaques and giving Aaron time by himself. It was later that evening, after a fun, relaxing dinner with friends that Aaron and I returned so I could watch the fireflies and I really immersed myself in the entire experience.
100_2464 Davey’s trees were illuminated with lights that pointed straight up and cast lovely shadows on the brick walkway. The star was itself illuminated and but for the flag, there was little other light around. Aaron and I sat there long after sunset on the benches and chatted softly, almost in whispers. I guess we were afraid that any louder than we were talking would shatter the moment. At times, we said nothing at all and you could hear me sniffling, but for that, there weren’t any other human sounds.
I guess that for me there were some things I just had to settle in myself. It was already shaping up to be an emotional month for me and being there in that moment helped me appreciate what the sport is all about. I realized that night how proud I am to be a part of this amazing and wonderful community. I felt a strange connection to this long dead hero and many others who’d gone before and after him.

Illuminated trees at the Davey Allison Memorial 
Even though there was no race going on that week, I am so grateful for the things I got to experience at Talladega and the Davey Allison Memorial. I loved surrounding myself with the history, emotion, and awe of this sport. I’ve put into words as best as I can what I felt and experienced while I was there but I’m not sure there are really words for any of it. It is just something you have to see and feel for yourself. 

All photo credits - Genesis Short


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