This weekend the speedway hosts its twice annual racing bonanza, including Sunday's Aaron's 499.
Vendors setting up their shops hoped for a good week, but said they had no idea what to expect. The speedway's management has offered incentives this year, trying to lure in race fans who might be tighter with their wallets.
Superspeedway Senior Director of Communications Kristi King said the race track cushioned the blow by lowering some ticket prices from $70 and $75 to $40. The speedway is also offering deals on food and highlighting the track's free parking.
King said ticket sales for the spring race at Talladega are down, as they have been for other races around the country.
"With the economy, we anticipated that," King said.
At least one local official remains optimistic about race turnout. Mack Ferguson, executive director of The Greater Talladega Area Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the race will be well-attended.
But hotels in Birmingham and Douglasville, Ga., reported a drop in race-week customers this year, according to an Anniston Star survey. One hotel employee said the hotel's Talladega business this year is half what it was last year. Hotels in Oxford saw a smaller decline, but none contacted for this story reported sales on the same level as prior years.
Arlene Andrews, a desk clerk at a Days Inn Hotels in Birmingham, said lowered Talladega attendance is hurting hotels all over the city.
"Normally, we don't have any rooms available," she said. "This year we've got about half of them. Most of the hotels around here are that way."
The Talladega races bring in $407 million to Alabama's economy annually and each race typically brings 250,000 people to the area, according to a 2008 economic impact study. The study, completed by Florida-based Washington Economics Group, said the race track creates $149 million in income from labor and $29 million in local and state sales tax revenue every year, provides 7,955 jobs and accounts for 11 percent of all the money the state makes from tourism.
The early campers at the RV park said they've noticed the park was less crowded Monday than it's been in the past.
Edward Donaldson, a carpet-layer from Bowling Green, Ky., said the decline in the housing market cut his income by half. He's been coming to the races for four years, but plans to cut back on his spending this time.
Getting the vacation time wasn't an issue; he hasn't had work for the last two weeks.
"I couldn't miss this," he said.
But Donaldson had friends who usually come who opted out. His brother-in-law makes Ford frames and was a no-show this year. Another friend who works for Ford stayed home, too. Donaldson's girlfriend, Sherry Meredith, said there was a line to get in on Monday a year ago.
"I think it's the economy," she said of the low-turnout. "I'd say so."
On Wednesday Terry Wadsworth of Pell City was set up near the track to sell firewood to campers, as he has done for nine years. He said traffic near the campgrounds seemed lighter than in previous years. He was asking $40 for tall stacks of woods, $20 for shorter stacks. He said he was prepared to lower the prices if he couldn't find buyers.
"I know the economy is bad," Wadsworth said. "Plus I don't want to have to load all this wood up and take it home."
Charlie and Alice Blackwelder made the trip from Calhoun City, Miss. Charlie drank a beer and considered the empty lot around him.
"Probably a lot of it is the economy," he said. "It hurts everybody."
The Blackwelders say they plan to spend money at the race every year. They plan to spend about $800 to $900 this year.
Vendors like Mark Reichenbach and Joey Harper hope they do. Harper sells NASCAR merchandise and said he had a decent fall race. He hopes Talladega will treat him well again this week.
Reichenbach, who sells funnel cakes, said there's no telling what his business will be like.
"I'm not worried," he said. "It's just the way it is, man. It's a gamble."
Trent Penny contributed reporting for this story.