Talladega and when speed used to matter

TALLADEGA, Ala. – It used to be a huge deal to qualify on the pole at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR’s longest and at one time fastest track. I don’t know if that’s still the case. Maybe …

I’m sure it’s important because of the pit stall selection and all that but it used to be about speed, pure and raw, and I don’t think that’s the case today.

Pit road was where you got gas and tires after somebody else wrecked and where you started and stopped there didn’t really matter all that much.

(You also came down pit road at a ridiculously fast speed but that’s a whole other story)

It was about building the sleekest, smoothest, fastest car and wringing the most horsepower out of your engine and seeing those big, eye-popping numbers flash up on the scoreboard and hearing the collective reaction/roar of the crowd. Goosebumps.

Bragging rights in the garage. That sort of thing. The folks that built the motors and those who massaged the cars walked around with their chests stuck out just a bit and for good reason.

Bill Elliott went 212.809 mph here in 1987 and that was the fastest anyone ever got from point A to point B on this 2.66-mile monstrosity. By the end of the first day’s qualifying, 37 of 41 drivers had posted laps in excess of 200 mph. Thirty-five had run their fastest laps ever.

Elliott, Georgia born and bred and a local favorite, had gone faster in testing, 214.206 mph under cooler conditions but that was “unofficial” and the 212.809 mark remains the record.

They used to trick the cars up and we’re not just talking about bending a rule or two. Spoiler rules weren’t rigid – seven years or so before Elliott’s run, Dave Marcis shot to the top spot in part by running without a spoiler on the rear of his Harry Hyde-tuned Dodge. His pole winning speed was 189.197 mph.

Imagine what that must have felt like.

They’d paint the car in silicone to help it slip through the air, that sort of thing.

It’s a bit different today – qualifying (scheduled for Saturday) is still about having a fast car but come Sunday single-car speed isn’t nearly as important. Hook up with the right fellow driver, choose the right line, make the smarter moves and you don’t have to have the fastest car to wind up in victory lane.

It used to be about speed here and nothing else really mattered.

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