There are 23 tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. All have history, but some are so-called cookie-cutters, meaning they have a standard shape and nothing that sets them apart.
And then there are the tracks that have character. There’s some meat and bones to them. They’re unique. They’re distinct. Something says, “I stand out in a crowd.”
The character class in NASCAR isn’t very deep. In fact, there are only a handful of tracks that have characteristics you may have never realized. Here’s two examples:
THE FINISH LINE AT TALLADEGA
Only one track — 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway in north central Alabama — has a start-finish line that isn’t located in the center (or at least close) of the frontstretch, tri-oval or whatever you might call it.
Forget road courses. They don’t count. And other tracks vary here and there, but for the most part the green and checkered flags wave under a stand that’s located in the middle of the main grandstand.
Except for Talladega.
The start-finish line is located way, way down — even past the exit of pit road — toward turn one. Instead of a 500-mile race ending in the tri-oval, it ends about 1,000 feet farther. Races at Talladega seem to be 500.1 miles, as the tri-oval serves as sort of a fifth turn on the last lap. The pack — or, these days, two-car packs — roars off of turn four, only to bank left once again for a drag race through the tri-oval and down the second short chute.
The position of the Talladega finish line has created numerous memorable finishes. Remember Rusty Wallace tumbling across the finish line in 1993? Or Carl Edwards, after flying into the fence, climbing out of the wreckage and jogging to the finish line on his feet?
Grant Lynch, the chairman of Talladega Superspeedway, has his own favorite memory, this coming in 1981.
“Without the extra length of the tri-oval we’d have missed out on some great three-wide finishes that have shaped our sport."
“The placement of the start-finish line here is such a unique characteristic to Talladega Superspeedway and something that has impacted the outcome of many a race,” Lynch said. “Without the extra length of the tri-oval we’d have missed out on some great three-wide finishes that have shaped our sport.
“I like to think back to a quote from Darrell Waltrip. He and Terry Labonte had just lost to Ron Bouchard in a classic three-wide battle. Now, Ron Bouchard had never won a Sprint Cup race before and DW was mad he’d just gotten beat by this relatively unknown driver. So Darrell goes up to Bill France after the race and says, ‘Who was the smartass that decided to put the start-finish line way down there?’ Bill looked him in the eye and said, ‘Darrell, you’re talking to the smartass.’ That’s probably my favorite story about the start-finish line.”
THE EGG IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Did you ever notice that Darlington Raceway, NASCAR’s oldest paved superspeedway, has turns that don’t match one another?
Harold Brasington, a local farmer and construction business owner in South Carolina, tried his hand at racing but retired in 1948. He and Bill France Sr. became pals over the years battling each other on Southeastern dirt tracks. Brasington became hooked on racing and decided that a paved oval in the sandhills of South Carolina might attract the amount of fans he saw when he attended the Indianapolis 500 in 1948.
Enter Sherman Ramsey, who’s the reason for Darlington’s odd shape.
You see, after Brasington bought 70 acres of land outside of Darlington, he began constructing a race track in a cotton and peanut field. But Brasington was forced to tuck in one corner and increase its banking because …
… Ramsey didn’t want construction of the track to disturb his minnow pond on the west side of the acreage.
So that’s the reason for Darlington’s egg shape. A lot’s chance since the first 500-mile race there in 1950. The track’s been reconfigured, with corners getting swapped, and lights have been added. The Lady in Black, however, is still famous for her Darlington Stripes.
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