Saturated seating: Fans endure rain in their pilgrimage to Talladega Superspeedway
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
May 04, 2013 | 9399 views |  0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A dry sense of humor (click on the photo to get a better view of the sign) helps overcome wet conditions at the Talladega Superspeedway Saturday. (Anniston Star photo by Eddie Burkhalter)
A dry sense of humor (click on the photo to get a better view of the sign) helps overcome wet conditions at the Talladega Superspeedway Saturday. (Anniston Star photo by Eddie Burkhalter)
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TALLADEGA — There were two types of race fans at the Talladega Superspeedway free campground Saturday: those with tents and those with recreational vehicles.

With the rain starting Friday evening and remaining long enough Saturday to leave campers mud-soaked and chilled, the former type clearly had it worse than the latter.

Perched underneath a makeshift blue tarp canopy held up with bamboo poles, Andrew Slone and his friends stood, hands in pockets, waiting to learn the fate of the day’s racing.

The group had driven down from Tullahoma, Tenn., on Thursday, and said they planned to stay as long as it took, holding out hope the rain would subside long enough for the cars to run in the day’s qualifying race.

Their tents sat close by, soaked and useless, as the men talked about how they’d get through until Sunday.

“I believe tonight we’re going to snuggle up in the Subaru,” said Slone.

Slone’s friend Joshua Pack has been coming to Talladega since 1988, when his father perched the five-year-old on his lap to watch his first race.

Pack, 30, watched the weather for a week before pointing his car towards Talladega. He said he knew he’d likely get wet, but true race fans endure.

“I promise. We’re not going anywhere,” Pack said, explain that they’d managed through Friday night all right, though more than a little wet, but the canopy suffered terribly. Its bamboo poles had to be repaired Saturday morning with some duct tape and a golf club used as a type of splint.

“All of our pillows and blankets are wet,” Pack said, but they’d get through regardless.

Just down the path from their campsite a tent, submerged in half-a-foot of water, looked like an emergency life raft adrift in a tiny ocean. People huddled by campfires and labored to keep grills lit in the drizzling rain.

Pack broke down his group's allegiances.

“There are some Kyle Busch fans and Jeff Gordon fans, but this is Earnhardt’s house so everybody needs to be respectful while they’re here and stay out of that mud. Stop slinging it everywhere,” Pack said.

The rain had slowed by mid-morning, and Slone predicted “it’s gone from here until midnight,” using weather updates gathered from “the old lady’s smart phone.”

But late Saturday afternoon, NASCAR officials cancelled the day’s qualifying race for the Aaron's 499 Sprint Cup race. The latter race is still on for today at noon.

For the luckier of the two types, like Atlanta residents Jay Bryant and Robert Allen, the camping experience was altogether different.

Standing underneath the canopy of one of their two new-model RVs, Allen observed, “It’s the weirdest weather over here. You’re either burning up or it’s raining.”

While watching racing news on a flat screen nearby, Bryant estimated they’d manage to see at least a half of a race before the weekend was over.

Today, the track will likely see more rain, according to the National Weather Service in Calera.

“Our chances are around 70 to 80 percent,” said Matt Anderson, meteorologist with the service, Saturday.

The showers are expected to be scattered throughout the day, Anderson said, but with much lower rainfall amounts than was seen Saturday.

“Just below a quarter of an inch or so, so that’s much lower than what we had overnight last night,” Anderson said. “... I don’t think it’s the type of rain that’s going to come and set in all day.”

Bryant said the rain Friday night was so bad it started an exodus. He talked about those who fled like they were wartime traitors.

“I’ve never seen people pulling out of the campground like we have today. People just leaving. You never see people leave,” Bryant said, pointing to two empty camping spots across from theirs.

They’d be staying regardless, Bryant said, echoing Pack’s statement that true race fans don’t leave.

“You’ve got too much invested in coming over here. You might as well stay and wait it out. See what happens,” Bryant said. “Even if you only get half the race in, you’ve got to try.”

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.
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