E.A. Sports Today

Waltrip dazzled

Hall of Fame driver returns to Talladega Speedway, checks out ‘be all end all’ Turn 3 tunnel project
From news release

TALLADEGA – Darrell Waltrip vividly recalls his first visit to Talladega Superspeedway in 1972 for his first career start in NASCAR’s premier racing series.

Returning Thursday to the track, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, the Hall of Famer took a stroll through the venue’s new Turn 3 Oversized Tunnel, which is under construction and will be ready for the track’s upcoming tripleheader motorsports weekend April 26-28.

“This place is the biggest track there is, and it has needed a big tunnel to go with it. Mission accomplished,” said Waltrip, a four-time winner at Talladega. “I remember coming here 47 years ago and was mesmerized at the size of this place – the infield, the track itself – just massive.

“Today, I am dazzled at the new tunnel. A lot of tracks have tunnels, but this is the ‘be all end all’ of tunnels. It’s unbelievable and is going to be great for the fans and teams.”

Waltrip, a NASCAR on FOX analyst since 2001, toured the tunnel, which now has all pre-cast arches and most of the entry and exit walls in place, and the new Finish Line Premium RV area. Both will be ready for the spring weekend to kick off Transformation – The Talladega Superspeedway Infield Project.

In addition, he also saw the foundation of the new Operations Tower, which will house the television booth for live network coverage of Talladega races and will be ready for the fall event weekend.

Waltrip’s Hall of Fame career got its start on May 7, 1972, after he rebuilt an old, wrecked Holman Moody ’71 Mercury, and made the venture to Talladega. His gold No. 95 machine started 25th and was competitive but finished 38th after engine failure.

“We fixed the car and had it ready to go, and Talladega was the next race on the schedule, so we loaded it up,” Waltrip said. “I had never been to a track like Talladega. I thought that day ‘I am a big-time Cup racer,’ running with the likes of Richard Petty, Bobby Allison and David Pearson….and I was passing them during the race. It was just incredible.”

Five years later, he would go to Victory Lane. His wins came in the spring of ’77 and summer of ’79 driving for Digard Racing (No. 88) with a sweep in ’82 for owner Junior Johnson (No. 11). His 84 career wins is tied for fourth on the all-time NASCAR list.

He recorded 14 top-five finishes at the 33-degree banked venue that included five runner-up results. He also took home the trophy during the 1984 International Race of Champions (IROC) event and stood in Victory Lane on another occasion, although he wasn’t credited with the win.

That came in the summer of ’77 when Waltrip, who fell out at the midway point in his own car, came back into the race as a relief driver for Donnie Allison who had gotten ill with just under 25 laps remaining. Waltrip held off Cale Yarborough, but the victory went to Allison per NASCAR rules that the driver who starts the race is awarded the result.

“Man, I thought it was so cool to win the race for them,” Waltrip smiled. “So, I pulled into Victory Lane and saw Donnie and Hoss (Ellington, owner of Allison’s team) in there already celebrating. I am sitting in the car and no one even comes over to me….no one asks do I need anything. I am like ‘what is going on?’
“So, I finally just got out the car and started walking out and Hoss asked Donnie what are you going to do for Darrell (for winning him the race)? Donnie said ‘I think I might buy him a Gatorade jacket.’ I didn’t need a Gatorade jacket since I had many because Gatorade was my sponsor. Another memory of this incredible race track.”

The $50 million Transformation Infield Project is part of International Speedway Corporation’s long-term capital allocation plan and reinvestment into its major motorsports complexes. The oversized, two-lane tunnel in Turn 3 will be capable of allowing vehicles as large as race team haulers and fans’ recreational vehicles to enter and exit the track simultaneously with ease. It will be open 24 hours during event weekends. Despite battling much inclement weather conditions over the winter, the project is still on schedule.

“We continue to remain on a good timeline, with both the tunnel and the Finish Line Premium RV area, despite all the weather issues we have had,” said Lance Taylor, President of Taylor Corporation. “It is our priority to stay on schedule. We have a great pumping system and have pumped out over 30 million gallons of water since mid-October. We are in a great place.”

The culmination of Transformation will occur this October and will allow fans to be immersed into the sport of NASCAR with the one-of-a-kind Talladega Garage Experience featuring “up-close” access, interactive attractions and enhanced amenities for fans, sponsors, teams and stakeholders in the iconic Talladega infield.

Cover photo: Talladega Superspeedway chairman Grant Lynch (L) and Hall of Fame driver Darrell Waltrip stand at the entrance of the track’s new Turn 3 Oversized Tunnel.

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