E.A. Sports Today

The first phase

Talladega Superspeedway breaks ground on new tunnel to drop the green flag on its $50 million Infield Transformation project

Talladega Superspeedway chairman Grant Lynch drops the green flag signalling Mike McWilliams (in cab) to start digging for the track’s new tunnel near the entrance to Turn 3.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — Grant Lynch hasn’t opened many birthday presents as big as the one he did Tuesday morning.

The chairman of Talladega Superspeedway celebrated his 65th birthday in a most unique way, leading the groundbreaking ceremonies on a new backstretch tunnel designed to grant race patrons and teams easier access to the iconic infield of the famed race track.

The two-lane tunnel will cater mostly to RV and team hauler traffic, giving race week visitors 24-hour access to the infield.

“It’s the biggest birthday present I’ve ever opened, that’s for sure,” Lynch said shortly after vice president of track operations Mike McWilliams broke through the asphalt with a huge back hoe.

The tunnel is the first phase of the track’s 50th anniversary $50 million infield Transformation project that will be completed in time for the October 2019 race weekend. It is an estimated $6 million piece of the puzzle and barring any of what Lynch described as “abnormally weird weather patterns” will be completed in time for the April 2019 race weekend.

“It has to be,” Lynch said. “It’ll be kind of hard to run with a big hole back here.

“It’s gonna get done. This isn’t one of those (projects) where we can get part of it done.”

The new tunnel will be less steep than the two existing tunnels at the track and will measure 208 feet long, 28 feet wide with an inside clearance of 16 feet, 9 inches (meeting interstate height specifications). “It’s big,” Lynch said. “Like ‘Dega.”

The adjacent Gate 9 crossover will remain available after the tunnel is open to accommodate oversized vehicles as will the two existing tunnels, which were built to accommodate normal traffic and vehicle designs of the day.

“I don’t think, not knowing Bill (France) Sr.’s thought process, the tunnels accomplished what he probably envisioned,” said Dell Hill, who was part of the original track groundbreaking in May 1968. “You come in this North tunnel and it’s steep and you can hang up, and we’ve had to pull them out. I think he wanted one that you could do what this one’s going to do now.”

When the entire Transformation is complete, Talladega’s infield will house a one-of-a-kind Garage Fan Zone Experience with interactive attractions and enhanced amenities. The centerpiece Garage Fan Zone will feature garage stalls on either side of the pavilion, giving fans up-close access to the top 22 teams of the week. The start-finish line at the track will not change.

“It’s exciting to see this start,” Lynch said. “We’ve been waiting on a big project for a long time here at Talladega and it’s somewhat beneficial to us that we have waited because we’ve done a lot of this now at other race tracks and we got to see what they got to do.

“You’ve got remember you’re in the biggest race track in the world, so we’ve got more square footage to do big projects. You look at that big building in the Fan Zone, right in the middle of the top 22 teams in the sport. We’re basically going to take our folks that go into the Fan Zone and we’re going to let them party in the epicenter of the sport. Nobody else has ever done this and we’re going to be the first one to do it.”

Grant Lynch watches Mike McWilliams pull up the first pieces of asphalt as Talladega officials begin construction of a new Gate 9 tunnel that will be ready in time for the Spring 2019 race.

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