Hotheads Return to Talladega
|Driver Kevin Harvick out for a Sunday afternoon hunt with his favorite weapon, his Goodwrench Chevy.|
Dale Earnhardt’s death two years ago on the final lap of the Daytona 500 left no shortage of NASCAR drivers contending for Earnhardt’s celebrated role as a racetrack bully. Driver Kevin Harvick, who replaced Earnhardt in the Goodwrench Chevrolet, immediately developed a reputation as a hothead who refused to retreat from confrontation. After one race, he chased an opponent (on foot) who had bumped him on the track, leaping from the roof of a competitor’s racecar to pounce on the offender—all in front of a national television audience. Harvick later violently bumped his nemesis in the following weeks and was suspended by NASCAR.
Tony Stewart, 2002 Winston Cup champion, filled the Earnhardt void with even more abandon. Over the next two years at various racetracks, Stewart ran up a list of impressive bad boy behavior. He crashed into driver Jeff Gordon on the “cool down” lap following a race at Bristol Speedway; intentionally knocked a tape recorder from a reporter’s hand while being interviewed; punched a photographer in Indianapolis; shoved an emergency worker who was attempting to help him from his wrecked racecar at New Hampshire Speedway; and pushed aside a woman asking for an autograph in Bristol. Stewart finally entered anger management counseling after his racing sponsor Home Depot fined him $50,000 and threatened to fire him.
The sporting world’s most exciting soap opera, NASCAR racing, returns to Talladega Superspeedway September 25 through 28 for the EA Sports 500 weekend. Driver Kurt Busch is currently playing this season’s villain with relish—his summer feud with driver Jimmy Spencer erupted into fisticuffs in the garage after the race at Michigan this past August.
Amidst all the intentional wrecks, name-calling, and brutal punches, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will be vying for his fifth straight Winston Cup victory at Talladega. Adding another bit of drama to this year’s EA Sports 500, veteran driver Terry Labonte ended a four-year losing streak when he won the final Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend at Darlington Raceway. The Southern 500 (formerly the Rebel 500) is the oldest race on the NASCAR circuit, but officials have decided to move the race to California Speedway beginning next year as stock car racing continues to expand beyond its Dixie roots. This weekend also marks the final race at Talladega in which the NASCAR series will be known as Winston Cup; next year Nextel will replace R.J. Reynolds as the series’ official sponsor.
Despite the cosmopolitan marketing employed by NASCAR to diminish its longstanding redneck image and reach a wider audience, it’s good to see that redneck tempers still veer out of control at 200 mph. Call 256-362-7223 or visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com. —Ed Reynolds