All photos courtesy Talladega Superspeedway

Talladega is Sweet Home Alabama for track chairman Grant Lynch

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Grant Lynch has served as chairman of Talladega Superspeedway since 1994, the third-longest tenured track operator in NASCAR.

Yet in all that time, he has never found his way to victory lane after a race.

“I don’t have to be the guy that gives out accolades,” Lynch said. “I’m comfortable not being there, and I have other people that know how to do that.

“Also, I want the teams to spend time with the sponsors in Victory Lane because they’re the ones that pay a lot of money to put on these races. It’s just something I do.”

While winning drivers and teams are celebrating, Lynch is usually found directing operations to get race fans on their way out of the track as quickly as possible.

“Bill France Jr. once told me, ‘It’s your job to get these people out of here so they’ll come back.’ I believe Bill France Jr.,” Lynch said.

It’s one of many valuable lessons Lynch learned from France, his former boss. With France’s mentoring and leadership, Lynch has turned Talladega into a must-see track on any race fan’s bucket list.

NASCAR RETURNS TO ‘DEGA THIS WEEKEND

For the 47th time in his tenure, Lynch throws open the gates and doors to his second home, welcoming tens of thousands of fans to this weekend’s racing action for the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series.

During his time as head of Talladega, Lynch has elevated the fan experience with enhancements such as unlimited free camping, alcohol-free campgrounds (even though Talladega is still known for its parties) and Sunday morning church services.

Lynch is the third-longest serving track operator in NASCAR behind Martinsville Speedway’s Clay Campbell (assumed his role in 1988) and Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Ed Clark (1992) – who are also among his best friends.

But Lynch is more than just a track operator. For several years, he split that role with a role as a high-level operative for parent company International Speedway Corporation, which included overseeing the development of both Kansas and Chicagoland speedways.

He also flew to Washington State 70 times within a two-year period to seek legislative support to build a new racetrack in the Pacific Northwest.

“I’m not known for doing that because y’all see me two times a year at the races,” Lynch said. “Most people assume I’ve been here all the time, but I haven’t been here as long as people would think.”

IT ALL BEGAN BY DRIVING A SHOW CAR

Lynch has had a long career in motorsports. He began as a show car driver for RJ Reynolds, rising to that company’s Senior Manager of Operations and Public Relations during its tenure as NASCAR’s primary sponsor, before moving to Talladega in 1993 as general manager.

He learned his duties at the track from – and succeeded – a most familiar name in the sport: NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton, who was Talladega Superspeedway’s president before handing the reins to Lynch.

“Mike brought me into the fold very quickly and said, ‘Here’s the deal: I’m going to run May (1993), and you follow me around. And then you’re going to run July (1993) and I’ll see how you do. And if you do good, then I’ll plan to get out of your way.’

“He mentored me and showed me what to do and then he got out of my way. Once I took over, the sport was just blowing up and we grabbed a hold of it, rode it as hard as anybody did and built the place to what we built it to.”

A NEW ERA FOR NASCAR — AND TALLADEGA

Like pretty much every other NASCAR track today, Talladega has gone through an evolution due to the downturn in the economy, less demand for tickets and fewer fans attending races.

Lynch remains optimistic that things are turning around for both his track and the sport.

“Of course, we’re in a little downturn now and now we’re refining it,” he said. “We’re taking the seats that used to be uncomfortable, the little 18-inch chair back seats – I know I can’t fit into an 18-inch seat – and now they’re 22 inches wide in the towers and 21 inches wide elsewhere.

“We’ve spent money wisely here and continue to do things for the fans to tell them we don’t just want you here for the races, we want you here for the concerts, for the Big One on the Boulevard party, and we want you to have a good time.”

Even though he’s been at Talladega for nearly a quarter century, Lynch credits his development as an administrator to the late Bill France Jr. and ISC chairwoman Lesa France Kennedy, who both hired him.

Lynch with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, who still holds the NASCAR speed record, set at Talladega nearly 30 years ago.

At the time, ISC only owned only Daytona, Talladega, Darlington and half of Watkins Glen. Since then, with Lynch at the helm of much of its development, ISC has grown to own 12 tracks from Watkins Glen in New York to Auto Club Speedway in California.

“To have had the attention that I got from Bill France Jr. when I was learning how to run this place, it’s hard for people to understand in the fast-paced environment we have today, how many phone calls I got from Bill saying ‘What are you doing about so-and-so?’” Lynch said. “I became a much better track operator because of the attention Bill and Lesa gave me as I was coming up.”

ALABAMA HAS BEEN A GREAT HOME

Even though he grew up in North Carolina, it’s been Sweet Home Alabama for Lynch and his family for nearly 25 years.

“It’s a place I love,” he said. “The state of Alabama, when we moved here, I’m a big outdoorsman, and it offers so much in natural resources throughout the state to experience. Plus, my girls went through school here, then both went to college at Auburn and both are now in Birmingham, so that anchors us down to the area as well. It’s our home.”

Lynch is active in the community, serving on a various board of directors, and is involved in a number of charitable endeavors, including the Alabama Institute for the Blind and Deaf.

Sitting on a site of more than 400 acres, Talladega’s overall footprint is larger than that of sister track in Daytona. Its infield is so large that some have joked you could fit a small third-world country in it.

Or, as Lynch likes to say – especially since he’s deep in football country: “We can put every SEC football stadium inside Talladega … it’ll hold all 14 stadiums. Now that’s big!”

Lynch and Kurt Busch in 2010

But like Dale Earnhardt Jr.Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, the checkered flag is slowly coming into view as Lynch eyes his own eventual retirement.

“I’m in my early 60s and I don’t want to work forever, but at the same time, people are living a lot longer,” he said. “I plan on working some more years. We’re obviously going to be going through something with Dale Jr. retiring, which is another challenge we’ll face going forward as a speedway, and I’d hate to just bail on something like that coming down the pike.

“I want to continue to work. I don’t know if I want to work 10 more years, but I’m probably going to work more than one or two and then see when it’s time for me to leave.

“At some point, everybody is going to ride off into the sunset and I hope to be smart about making that decision and stay long enough that I don’t want to be un-useful or wear out my welcome, either.”

WHAT WILL NASCAR AND TALLADEGA DO WITHOUT DALE JR?

This will be a rather unique weekend at ‘Dega, as it will be Earnhardt’s next-to-last scheduled race at his most successful racetrack (six wins). While Lynch admits he’ll miss Junior after he retires from racing, he’s bullish on NASCAR’s next generation.

“The greatest thing we have going for us is the names we have coming up right now and how good these young people are,” Lynch said. “You see what an Erik Jones and Chase Elliott and others are doing right now.

“The teams are very strong right now, the finances are working for everybody right now, the sport is strong, we’re not what we were but we’re still very important in the motorsports world in the United States without a doubt. I think we’re going to have a time where we’re going to find some new fans that are going to attach to some new drivers and go on.

“I’m positive on the fact that we don’t need to quit what we’re doing here at Talladega because it’s generating good interest with the race fans, we’re beating most of our peers in a lot of the things we sell, and I think we have a bright future here just because of what we can do here that other people can’t.”

Come Saturday and Sunday, Lynch won’t be in victory lane once again. But that’s the way he likes it. It’s not about him, it’s about the drivers and the fans – and that’s the way he wants it to continue.

“I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve gotten to do,” he said. “I don’t know what I would trade it for. I’ve gotten to see a lot of places and go to a lot of places and meet a lot of people and worked with a lot of great people at the track and have been involved with some of the greatest fans in the world, so that’s a pretty blessed life.”

TALLADEGA — HOME OF SPEED AND RECORDS

Talladega Superspeedway has seen a number of NASCAR records set there, most during Grant Lynch’s tenure.

Here’s some of ‘Dega’s most notable racing achievements:

* All-Time qualifying speed record: 212.809 mph – Bill Elliott (1987).

* Elliott also holds the record for most poles at TSS (8).

* All-Time race speed record at TSS: 188.354 mph – Mark Martin (1997, which was also the first caution-free race ever contested there).

* Closest NASCAR Cup series finish: 2011 – Jimmie Johnson over Clint Bowyer (.002 seconds).

* Closest NASCAR Xfinity Series finish: .1999 – Terry Labonte over Joe Nemechek (.002 seconds)

* Closest NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finish: 2010 – Kyle Busch over Aric Almirola (.002 seconds)

* Most lead changes in a NASCAR Cup race: 88 – April 25, 2010 and April 17, 2011

* Most Leaders in a single NASCAR Cup race at TSS: 29 – April 25, 2010

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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 79: Jason Weigandt on Supercross, Monster and Jimmie Johnson

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Motocross journalist and broadcaster Jason Weigandt joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss the Supercross finale and the start of Outdoor season.

Weigandt, the editor of Racer X online magazine, also discussed how Monster Energy’s new title sponsorship of NASCAR has been perceived in Supercross, which the company has backed since 2008, and why he believes Jimmie Johnson isn’t NASCAR’s most popular driver despite his success.

Weigandt is the play-by-play announcer for the 2017 motocross season, which will be shown on NBCSN as well as on the NBC Sports Gold package (which will offer all motos, qualifiers and practices for the 12-round season as well as on-demand access to the past two seasons).

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

NASCAR America: 50 States in 50 Shows: North Dakota

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Today’s edition of “50 States in 50 Shows” profiles Nodak Speedway in Minot, North Dakota.

The 3/8-mile dirt track is located 110 miles north of Bismarck and is located on the grounds of the North Dakota State Fair.

Watch the video for the full look Nodak Speedway.

 

NASCAR America: Austin Dillon: Feels good to beat Jimmie Johnson in ‘chess match’

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Following the first win of his NASCAR Cup Series career, Austin Dillon said he was proud of his team for coming out on top in a “chess match” against Jimmie Johnson.

“We’re chasing down what I consider ‘The GOAT’ (Greatest of All Time),” Dillon told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “Jimmie’s tied with the best of the best. To beat him in a little chess match there at the end, it feels real good. At a track I’ve seen him win multiple races sitting in the stands.”

Dillon was able to make his last tank of gas stretch 70 laps, two more than Johnson, on his way to winning the Coca-Cola 600.

The win comes at a track Dillon has competed on since the early days of his career.

“I grew up racing in the 1/5-mile here, Bandeleros and Legends cars, to get my first win here, there’s nothing better,” Dillon said.

Watch the video for the full interview and to hear Richard Childress’ thoughts on the win.

Something finally goes right for Erik Jones in first Coca-Cola 600

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Image
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CONCORD, N.C. — For the first time since March, fortune finally bounced in Erik Jones‘ favor.

That was after a piece of debris bounced through his grille.

On Lap 20 of the Coca-Cola 600, debris from a wreck between Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski littered the frontstretch of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Jones, running in the top 10, managed to avoid the wreck itself. But the rookie couldn’t avoid whatever caused a football-sized hole in the nose of his No. 77 Toyota.

“You start the day off like that and you’re like, ‘Man, it’s not going to be easy,'” said Jones, who finished a career best seventh. “That kind of hurt us all day, I think. Not a ton. Obviously we had still had a fast car, but it was definitely slowing us down some.”

Competing in the longest race of his career to date, the episode looked like the latest in a series of misfortunes that have plagued the driver, who turns 21 on Tuesday.

Jones entered the race with two DNFs in the last three points races and three DNFs if you counted the previous weekend’s All-Star Race.

Before the All-Star Race, Jones caused three cautions at Kansas Speedway for spins before finishing 22nd. He wrecked out at Talladega in a big crash and the week before that was eliminated at Richmond when the race was five laps old.

Entering the longest race of the year, Jones had just one top-10 finish, eighth at Phoenix.

Following the accident Sunday, Jones restarted 27th. The rest of the night was “smooth” on the way to his best finish in 15 Cup starts.

“I think we had a top-five car,” Jones said. “Kind of missed on a couple of adjustments at the end, got behind on the racecar a little bit. Just kind of fell back at the end.”

By the halfway point at Lap 200 and after a 1 hour and 39 minute rain delay, he was in eighth. During the 400-lap race, his average running spot was 11.8.

“We didn’t have any troubles in the pits,” Jones said. “We didn’t have any troubles on the track (after the Lap 20 accident), we had a pretty good car all night. So it was just nice to have a solid night. I feel like we’re plenty capable of running in the top 10 every week, we just got to keep having days and night like this.”

Jones is now 18th in the points standings and 10 points ahead of fellow rookie Daniel Suarez.

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