Monday, April 20, 2009

Talladega Memories - 1991 Winston 500

In May 1991, we camped for the 3rd year in a row (I think it was 3) at Talladega. Saturday was fine at the speedway, but we awoke on Sunday to gloomy skies. Sure enough, not long after the Winston 500 began Mother Nature unleashed an unbelievable shower worthy of a Bering Sea storm on The Deadliest Catch. It rained so much in a short period of time that I'm pretty sure the whole speedway slid down towards the highway about a foot or so.

We made it to our car - soaked but laughing. Off we headed for home to Chattanooga. But as we sat in miserable traffic followed by a solid 2-1/2 hour ride home, we committed ourselves to phoning in sick on Monday and returning to what was then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway.

Monday was the complete opposite of Sunday. You couldn't buy a nicer spring day. As per usual, we returned to our usual spot in those days of the bank along the back stretch with lawn chairs and coolers in hand. (Race day tickets were $25. Some folks opted for the rickety, splintered, drunk-filled bleachers. But we always opted for lawn chairs and blankets.)

The racing was simply phenomenal. Tons of speed. Tons of passing. Tons of moves that took your breath away. Kyle Petty was fast. Earnhardt as usual was on the point. One of our homeboys, Nashville's own Bobby Hamilton was racy in Tri-Star Motorsports Country Time Lemonade Olds. His previous claim to fame in Cup was driving cars for the filming of Days of Thunder.

And then it happened. Swervin' Irvan sandwiched his way between Kyle Petty and Mark Martin, twitched, doinked Kyle, and all hell broke loose. Mark's ride looked the wildest as his car rose a bit before settling back down. But Kyle got the worst end of it. The wreck broke his leg and sidelined him for many, many weeks.

We were sitting about where the '500' is painted on the wall in the accompanying video - not too far from where Kyle's car came to rest.

Irvan, rightfully so, took a ton of grief for the wreck - not to mention the many other ones he caused over the years. But in times when he himself got hurt, he often recalled one of the first driver to come see in or call about his condition was...Kyle Petty.

In the end, all the great racing during the race didn't matter. Harry Gant conserved fuel & got some bump drafting, gas-conserving assistance from Rick Mast who was driving a 2nd Skoal car. He won a fuel mileage 500 over Darrell Waltrip who was none too happy about being snookered on Handsome Harry's stroking fuel cruise.


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