NASCAR at Talladega and the 25 Best Fan Experiences in Motorsports

Paul Carreau@@PaulCarreauAnalyst IApril 13, 2011

NASCAR at Talladega and the 25 Best Fan Experiences in Motorsports

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    TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 31:  (***EDITORS NOTE*** - THIS DIGITAL IMAGE WAS CREATED WITH THE USE OF VARIABLE FOCAL PLANE LENS) Cars race through the tri-oval during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AMP Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 31,
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    This weekend, two of NASCAR's top three series make their first visit of 2011 to Talladega. The races at Talladega are always edge-of-your-seat exciting, and provide more than their fair share of nail-biting moments.

    Being a spectator at this spectacle has to be a thrill in and of itself. While you may have to strain your eyes when the cars are on the backstretch, there is no doubt that the sheer atmosphere of the weekend will more than make up for it.

    That said, I am going to take a look at 25 of the best fan experiences in motorsports. While I have not had the opportunity to participate in all of these events, I am assuming that these would be the best.

    The following list is in no particular order. And it is strictly based on my opinion of the things I have been able to do as a fan and the things I would most like to do as a fan.

25. Go to Thunder Road

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    I am going to start the list on a biased note. If you are looking for the best possible fan experience, look no further than the best short track in the country, Thunder Road.

    Thunder Road is located in Barre, Vermont and is my hometown track. It is a one-quarter mile, high-banked oval. Turn 4 is such a challenge for the drivers that it has been dubbed "The Widowmaker."

    This track is so much fun to race on that stars like Tony Stewart, Kenny Wallace and David Ragan have all come up in the last couple of years to take their turn on it. If you are looking for the best possible fan experience in motorsports, treat yourself to a race at "The Nation's Site of Excitement."

24. Seeing History Made

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    DAYTONA BEACH - FEBRUARY 15: Dale Earnhardt Sr. driver of the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet celebrates with his wife Teresa after winning the Daytona 500 on February 15, 1998 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by David Taylor
    David Taylor/Getty Images

    This is the only one on the list that fans actually have no control over. The best experience that a fan could get would be if they had the opportunity to say: "I was there when..."

    There are some moments in motorsports history that will never be forgotten: Richard Petty's final race, Dale Earnhardt's Daytona 500 win and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s win in the No. 3 car at Daytona. Those are all moments that will never be forgotten. If you were fortunate enough to be there for any of those historic events, you have one of the best fan experiences possible.

23. Go to the NASCAR Hall of Fame

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 26:  NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France (L) and President Mike Helton, speak with the media during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 26, 2011 in Charlotte,
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    This is another one that shouldn't really need a whole lot of explanation. If you want a history lesson on NASCAR, there couldn't possibly be a better place to get it than at the Hall of Fame.

    I have yet to make it to the Hall of Fame, but I am hoping to at some point in the next year. It just seems like anyone who loves NASCAR would make this a priority to see sometime.

22. Viewing a Team's Race Shop

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    courtesy tarheelramblings.com
    courtesy tarheelramblings.com

    Many of the teams' race shops are located in Charlotte, North Carolina. If you have a day or two, and are in the area, I would recommend stopping by and seeing the sights for yourself.

    It is actually quite interesting to go see each of the different shops. Each one offers something different. Most of them give the fans a viewing area where people can look right into the shops and see employees working on the cars.

    I was given a chance to get an exclusive inside look at the Haas/CNC shop back in 2008. One of their employees took me right into the shop, as well as into fabrication, the paint shop and the testing areas. It was an in-depth tour and was very insightful.

    It added just one more perspective of how to view the teams and get more appreciation of how hard they all have to work to make race days successful.

21. Sponsoring a Race Car

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    This one was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, and it produced the most amazing fan experience I could have ever imagined.

    As I mentioned, I am a Scott Riggs fan. Last season, he ran a handful of races for RAB Racing in the Nationwide Series. At the time, the team had no sponsorship, so a group of Riggs' fans decided that we would all take part in a "Sponsor Scott" themed car for the Nashville race.

    For varying donation amounts, fans can get their name on his car and be an official sponsor. I took advantage of the opportunity, and it resulted in one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I was treated just like a big-time sponsor, and I was given the opportunity to feel like part of the team for a weekend.

    If any situation like this ever comes up for anyone, I would heavily encourage taking advantage of it. It is well worth the donation money.

20. Seeing a Pit Stop in Person

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    FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 09:  David Ragan, driver of the #6 UPS Freight Ford, makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for N
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    It is one thing to watch a team make a pit stop on the television. But when you see it in person, it really makes you appreciate how amazing it is that they can get all of that stuff done in 14 seconds or less.

    I have had the opportunity to watch a race from atop a team's pit box. When the car comes in for its service, there are six people that have to be on top of their game, because one mistake can cost their driver a bunch of positions.

    If you can see this in person, and truly see how in sync the whole team is, your respect and appreciation for what these folks do will grow exponentially.

19. Going to Eldora Speedway

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    ROSSBURG, OH - JUNE 09: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops late model Chevrolet, passes David Reutimann, driver of the #00 Aaron's late model Toyota, after Reutimann lost a left front wheel during the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Prelude to the Dr
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    What a fun time this would be. Tony Stewart is the owner of Eldora Speedway in Ohio. He has become famous for hosting his annual Prelude to a Dream dirt-track race each June.

    Many of NASCAR's top stars take part in this one night race for charity. It has even become such a spectacle that it is now broadcast live on Pay Per View with the proceeds going to the charity.

    I can honestly say that I have actually never been to a dirt race in my life. But I know for a fact that this one would be a heck of a way to begin my dirt track-watching career.

18. Attending an Autograph Session

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 05:  Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M Post-it Ford, signs his autograph for a fan during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 5, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jared
    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    There is a major sense of excitement when you know that you are going to meet your favorite driver. And you get that sense when you attend a driver's autograph session.

    The only problem with these sessions is that your time with the driver is fairly limited. A lot of times, the number of items you can get signed is limited to just one or two, and you have to keep the line moving at somewhat of a steady pace.

    But if it is the only way you have to get an autograph or a picture with your favorite driver, it is well worth the time. I have attended numerous sessions from various drivers, and with just one or two exceptions, the drivers are usually always very cordial and accommodating to their fans.

17. The National Anthem and Flyover

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 06:  The US Air Force Thunderbirds perform a flyover during the national anthem before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 6, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Image
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    If you have never been to a race or, for that matter, any sporting event, then you have no idea just how special this moment is. If you have been, then you are well aware of how surreal this moment can really feel.

    When you get 100,000 people together, and then all of them stand in unison for the National Anthem and the subsequent flyover, it is truly a sight. And more importantly, it's a moment that almost seems to stand still.

    The thing I remember the most from the first time I was ever in attendance for a flyover was just how loud it really was. As much as I love the sound of the engines of the race cars roaring to life, the sound of the airplanes doing their flyover at the end of the national anthem is one of the great sounds in all of sports.

16. Eating a Martinsville Hot Dog

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    MARTINSVILLE, VA - APRIL 03:  Fans look over a Martinsville hot dog, nick named a 'Slider' in the infield prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3, 2011 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Pho
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Raise your hand if you expected to be reading an article about a hot dog tonight! I don't expect to see many hands up, but if you are a NASCAR fan, than you have undoubtedly heard about the famous Martinsville hot dog.

    This is yet another experience on my own list that I have yet to partake in. But from all accounts, this is the hot dog to top all hot dogs.

    Some would argue against the famous Martinsville hot dog, what with all of its nutritional negatives. Then there is the fact that the pink dye used on the hot dog sometimes turns the inside of the bun an off-pink color, making it very unappealing to the eye.

    But with all of its negatives aside, this culinary perfection smothered in chili is something that every motorsports fan should ingest at some point.

15. Attending Your First Race

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    DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 13:  A young NASCAR fan gives the thumbs up, prior to the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Dodge Avenger 500 on May 13, 2007 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina.   (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    Attending your first race is something that you will never forget. It is one thing to watch a race on television, but being at the track, hearing the sounds and seeing the sights in person is something very special.

    I will never forget my first race. Being from New England, the only choice for a Sprint Cup race was at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. I went for the first time in July of 2000. It was a cool and rainy day, but they were able to complete 273 of the 300 scheduled laps before the rains came and soaked everything for good.

    I vividly remember the sights, the sounds and even the finish of the race. Tony Stewart was declared a winner when track officials determined the track couldn't be dried before sunset. As a Mark Martin fan, I was devastated, because I remembered that he had enough fuel to make it to the finish. In contrast, Stewart and second-place finisher Joe Nemechek were both due in to make green-flag stops for fuel within the next 10 laps.

    Either way, attending your first race is an event that no one will ever forget.

14. Being on the Front Stretch for Driver Introductions

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    LOUDON, NH - JUNE 26:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, waves to the crowd during driver introductions prior to the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series New England 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 26, 2010 in Loudon, Ne
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    If you have ever been to a race, you know those moments before the drivers fire the engines, when they all get introduced one by one and then take their parade laps around the track. Now imagine being one of the lucky fans that get to be standing on the track while the drivers are being introduced.

    That is yet another cool moment to take part in. I have also had the opportunity to do this on one occasion. It came at Nashville for the Nationwide Series race. Some people might not think that this is anything special, but it is just one more opportunity to get right up next to the biggest stars in the sport.

13. Being in a Race Car

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    UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 17:  PGA TOUR player Phil Tataurangi poses outside of a Petty race car before members of the PGA TOUR take part in the Richard Petty Driving experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway on Tuesday October 17, 2006.  (Photo by Reinh
    Reinhold Matay/Getty Images

    Only a select few get the opportunity to race at the highest levels. But with programs like the Richard Petty Driving Experience, anyone can feel what it would be like to be able to be out there with the greats.

    Most race fans would love nothing more than to strap in to a race car and take a few laps around the track just to get the rush of adrenaline that comes with being a race-car driver.

    This is something that I have regrettably yet to do. I wouldn't even care if I had the opportunity to drive the car or not. Even if I was just a passenger, getting the chance to go upwards of 200 miles per hour would be quite the thrill.

12. Listening to a Race on the Radio

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 20: MRN's Barney Hall speaks during the Inaugural Induction Dinner at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on May 20, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Chris Keane/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Chris Keane/Getty Images

    Call me crazy, but once or twice a year I enjoy listening to a race on the radio as opposed to watching it on television. I know that sounds crazy, but when you have quality radio personalities like MRN lead announcer Barney Hall and lead turn-announcer Dave Moody, they paint just as good of a picture as what you would actually see on a television screen.

    NASCAR has two major broadcast partners that it goes through, MRN and PRN. If I am going to listen to a race on the radio, I would much prefer that it is during an MRN broadcast. I just feel like they cover the race with superior quality.

    As I said, I don't always make a habit of doing it. But every once in a while, listening to the radio coverage is a nice change of pace, and can sometimes be a real unique experience and bring you all the same action but from a different perspective.

11. Meeting Mario Andretti

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    SONOMA, CA - AUGUST 22:   Mario Andretti stands with Road Championship Trophy after the IZOD IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway on August 22, 2010 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    This one, much like meeting Richard Petty, really doesn't need a whole lot of explanation. In the world of motorsports, Mario Andretti is a legend. Everyone knows his name, and everyone should also have the good fortune to meet him and hear some of his stories.

    Andretti is one of the best race-car drivers to have ever lived. He has been successful at every level and in all different types of racing. To have the fortune to spend any time with one of the all-time greats would certainly be time well spent.

10. Meeting John Force

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    CONCORD, NC - SEPTEMBER 17:  NHRA Funny Car points leader John Force speaks with the media at zMax Dragway on September 17, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    The third-and-final living legend that every motorsports fan should be so privileged to meet is John Force. When you think about the world of drag racing, the first name that comes to mind has to be that of Force.

    Whether you are familiar with drag racing or not—truth be told, I am really not all that familiar with it—you know who John Force is.

    He, much like Andretti and Petty, would have a wealth of stories to share. And from all accounts I have heard, Force is truly one of the nice guys in the business. So that in itself is all the more reason to want to meet him.

9. Watching Funny Cars in Person

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    CONCORD, NC - SEPTEMBER 19:  Matt Hagan, drives the Fram Funny Car against Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Funny Car during the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at zMax Dragway on September 19, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Rusty Jar
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    As I mentioned, I am very unfamiliar with drag racing and funny cars. What I do know, though, is that they are a heck of a show in person.

    While the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race are something to be seen, the sights and sounds of the funny cars are incredible. The sheer speed that they run with is amazing. As long as you don't mind a loud noise, the sound is absolutely phenomenal.

8. Getting a Garage Pass

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    FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 08:  Jeff Gordon (L), driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, sits in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 8, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jason Smith/G
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    This is the perfect opportunity to meet your favorite driver. If you are ever fortunate enough to get a garage pass, jump all over the chance. Most times, in order to get your hands on one of these, you have to have some connections. They can cost a little bit of money, but they are well worth it.

    I have been fortunate enough to enter the garages twice—once at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the other at Nashville. It made the race weekend about one thousand times more exciting. Once in the garage, you are free to do basically whatever you want.

    You can get right up next to all of the cars and you can get elbow to elbow with all of the biggest stars of the sport. If you are an autograph seeker or are into getting photographs taken with drivers, a garage pass is the right thing for you.

7. Meeting Your Favorite Driver

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    DOVER, DE - SEPTEMBER 24:  Mark Martin (R), driver of the #5 Delphi/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, signs autographs for fans after practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 24, 2010 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    It doesn't matter who you cheer for in the racing world. Whether you are a fan of one of the top stars in the sport, like Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon, or a fan of a driver still looking for their big break, like a Travis Kvapil or Reed Sorenson, having the opportunity to meet them is the thrill of a lifetime.

    My two favorite drivers are Mark Martin and Scott Riggs. I have had the opportunity to meet both of them on multiple occasions. I have nothing but the highest of praise for both of them.

    I actually had the chance to spend an entire race weekend with Scott Riggs a year ago for the Nationwide Series race in Nashville. It was the trip of a lifetime. I was able to take away so many memories and met a lot of great people besides Scott.

    If, as a race fan, you never do anything else, make every effort to at least meet your favorite driver one time. It is the most rewarding moment that a fan can have.

6. Meeting Richard Petty

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    BRISTOL, TN - MARCH 19: Car owner Richard Petty watches from atop the team hauler during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Jeff Byrd 500 Presented By Food City at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 19, 2011 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Geoff Bur
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    One of the ultimate thrills of my life as a racing fan has been the opportunity to meet "The King" Richard Petty. I have been fortunate to meet him a couple of different times, and it is something that every race fan should get to experience.

    While Petty's glory days were before my time, there are still fewer thrills than meeting one of the two greatest drivers in NASCAR history.

    Both times I have met Petty, he was nothing but gracious and friendly. He was willing to sign autographs, and more than willing to take some time to get to know everyone. He took the time to talk to anyone who wanted to exchange stories.

    Richard Petty is one of the all-time greats in the world of racing. But he's an even better person who everyone should have a chance to meet at least once.

5. The 24 Hours of Daytona

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    DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 27:  The #01 TELEMEX Chip Ganassi Lexus, driven by Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Dario Franchitti, and Juan Pablo Montoya, wins the Rolex 24 of Daytona on January 27, 2008 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    What a cool race the 24 Hours of Daytona is. A team event, in which the name speaks for itself, it is a race that runs a full 24 hours.

    Many top stars from various types of racing enter the annual event. This season, Jimmie Johnson, Juan Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Scott Pruett were among the notable names that were entered into the event.

    Maybe I have a thing for night racing, but that would be the part of the show that would intrigue me the most. While there is nothing wrong with daytime racing, once the sun goes down and the lights come on, the action just seems to really pick up.

4. Going to the Brickyard

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    INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 31:  (R-L)  Dario Franchitti of Scotland, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda and Chip Ganassi Racing Nascar driver and 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray with the Harley J. Earl trophy and the Borg Warner tro
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Whether you are a NASCAR fan or an open wheel fan, the Brickyard is a place that any motorsports fan must go to once in their life. There is no other racing venue that is more famous or has more history associated with it.

    There is so much to be excited about when it comes to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Whether it is just to see the row of bricks that comprise the start/finish line, or whether it is to sit in the grandstands that are on the inside of the racetrack, every aspect of the Brickyard has a story.

3. The Daytona 500

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    DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 20:  Trevor Bayne, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florid
    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    I was tempted to title this one "Attending the Daytona 500," but as a fan, you don't even have to be in attendance to love and get the full Daytona 500 experience.

    I have never been to Daytona either, but not being there in no way diminishes my excitement for the Great American Race. Maybe it's because it's the first race of the NASCAR season, or maybe it's just because of what race it is, but when Daytona rolls around, I am like a kid in a candy store.

    This year's 500 brought us one of the greatest feel-good stories in many years with Trevor Bayne scoring the win for the Wood Brothers. Last year's Daytona 500, with Jamie McMurray's incredible victory and subsequent emotional Victory Lane celebration, were also moments that race fans will never forget.

    So, whether you are able to attend the race or not, the Daytona 500 itself is easily one of the 25 greatest fan experiences.

2. NASCAR Race at Bristol

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    BRISTOL, TN - MARCH 20: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Jeff Byrd 500 Presented By Food City at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 20, 2011 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Geoff Burke
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    For me personally, if I could only go to one racetrack, it would be Bristol Motor Speedway. While it may not have the same tradition as a Daytona or an Indianapolis, what could be better than sitting in a completely enclosed 160,000-seat stadium of a racetrack?

    To take it one step further, I would choose the night race at Bristol. The excitement and atmosphere, while still strong during the spring race, is seemingly multiplied when the Sprint Cup makes its end-of-summer visit to the half-mile under the lights.

    I will be the first to admit that, ever since they repaved Bristol a few years back, the action that we came to expect from the short track is a little tamer. But that doesn't change the fact that Bristol would be an absolutely amazing track to watch a race at.

1. NASCAR at Talladega

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    TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 31:  A general view of cars racing during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AMP Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 31, 2010 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    I have never attended a race at Talladega, and for a while, I didn't think I would ever want to. The track is huge—2.66 miles long. That is a lot of opportunity to miss some action.

    The more I think about it, though, the more I think I would enjoy going. Sure, you might have a hard time seeing some of the action, but the atmosphere of just being there, as well as the photo finishes, would be well worth it. There is never a lap at Talladega when, as fans, we aren't holding our breath.

    Inevitably, the Big One is more than likely to happen. That kind of edge-of-your-seat excitement is what keeps the fans continuously coming back for more.

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