Speedway Boulevard roughly parallels Interstate 20 as it carries traffic from Atlanta west to Birmingham.
The boulevard is a fine, wide road, one that came courtesy of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who was tight friends with Talladega Superspeedway builder and NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. The boulevard loops off Interstate 20 and then returns traffic to the I a few miles later – its only real purpose to funnel cars to the speedway, where the original press box was named for George Wallace.
It was one of those “If you build it here, we will put in a road” deals back in the 1960s when France was looking for a location for his second monster superspeedway and an abandoned airport location in the middle of nowhere east of Birmingham attracted his attention. Alabama International Motor Speedway (the name was changed in 1989) was born, bringing along with it Speedway Boulevard.
So it is that on two weekends a year Speedway Boulevard becomes one of the most innovative corridors of commerce in Alabama. In tents, from trucks, from trailers, with homemade advertising signs, all manner of entrepreneurs show up along the boulevard for every Talladega race. If there is a recession here, no one notices.
And, on this particular weekend, with the Sprint Cup schedule magically matching up with the witching hour of Halloween – the Amp Energy Juice 500 is scheduled for Halloween day, the commerce along Speedway Boulevard is draped in the colors of the holiday and accompanied by a goblin or two or 15.
If the sales locations along the boulevard are a good indication, the two most important items one needs for a enjoyable weekend at NASCAR’s biggest track are firewood and beads.
The thousands who camp in the track’s massive infield or in the sprawling campgrounds that surround the speedway apparently go through firewood like fans through beer. Small-time timber barons sell it in bundles and stacks along the boulevard, and business is brisk. The night-time temperatures are going to be in the 30s over the weekend, after all.
The homemade signs offer all sorts of inducements. “Free Kinlin” reads one. Another: “Buy Firewood, Beads Free”.
And that brings us to beads, the No. 2 consumer item (behind adult beverages) at every Talladega race. Strings of beads are the official element of trade for certain transactions in and around speedway property on race weekends. In general, it works like this – females display certain portions of their anatomy for generous male observers, and are rewarded with strings of beads. Some ladies head home on Talladega Mondays with enough beads to crisscross the state – twice.
So the folks on Speedway Boulevard want you to buy plenty – just in case they’re needed.
Many of them will change hands along Talladega Boulevard, the Main Street of the Talladega infield. Close to the speedway backstretch, Talladega Boulevard is the area’s party capital on race weekends – and particularly so when the fall race coincides with Halloween weekend.
Infield residents will be dressed – and undressed – in costumes that run the spectrum from quaint to unseemly tonight and Saturday night along the infield street. Assorted beverages will be consumed – some to excess. Beads will be exchanged. It will be possible for women to get “free mammograms” from numerous volunteers – none with any sort of medical training.
Nine months from tonight, there will be numerous births.
It will be a wild time.
And, oh, by the way, on Sunday there will be a race.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.