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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Talladega Super Speedway

Talladega Super Speedway
Originally uploaded by Sally Ann.

Experiences of "The World Famous"
by: Tony Vickio

Painting at the Famous Race Tracks

Lap 3

It was 7:30am when I arrived at the track. When you see this track for the first time, it is hard to comprehend the true size of this place. As you turn off of I-20, the main gate is overwhelming! It is 30 lanes wide! Naturally, it's called the "Thirty Lane". As you drive up this wide entrance, you are faced with this huge grass bank with a 20 foot high catch fence all the way around the top. As you look straight ahead, there is a tunnel that runs right through the base of this "mountain". In a later "Tale", we do a grass painting on that mountain for a Fallen Hero.

As you get closer, you see the road drops off into this dark tunnel at quite an angle. It is a little intimidating at first. It is made from one half of a large culver pipe. There is room for one lane and a sidewalk and as you get closer, you can see just how steep the tunnel drops off into the darkness. Down you go then it flattens out and up the other side. As you drive out the other side and back into the sunlight, you look back at the track and you stop the car dead in its tracks! You're now looking at the track between Turn's 3 & 4. You can't even speak! There is no description as to how steep the banking is (34 degrees), an angle you can never see on TV. The view of the banking is burned into my brain. No matter how many times I see it, I still have to stop and stare at it. Little did I know how much time I was going to spend working up on the "High Banks".This is how we became known as "Highwallers". More to come on this later. Back to this day.

The sun was shinning, birds were everywhere and not a cloud in the sky. As I approached the outside of Turns 3 & 4 of this "Monster Oval", I turned left onto a huge strip of yellowish, brown concrete. I drove towards that old Operations trailer and my office. You see, Talladega Superspeedway was built on an old WWII Air Field. This place is not near anything! It is about 15 miles from the city of Talladega, 20 miles from Anniston and sits off I-20, right smack dab on this old air strip. It was too hard to remove the foot thick runways, so they built the track right over them! These runways are huge! Thump, thump, thump as you drive over them. I can picture B-24s and B-17s taxiing down these runways during the war. I pull up to the front of the Maintenance building and stop. I get out and go into the Operations trailer. The cigarette smoke smell is so strong you have to take little short breaths until you get used to it. Larry, the Operations Manager, is NEVER without a cigarette! I walk over to the counter to get a coffee. First time I got coffee there, he said "Git yerself a cup, they’re over there". I went to get a still had "lip"marks on it! I said, "I'll get one later". I get back in the car and drive out the gate. Just down the road is a gas station that has a small Deli inside. I pull in and go inside. Wow! They have a lot of "stuff" in here. Along the front window are six booths. The bench seats are covered with blue vinyl, not the best material considering how hot it gets. There are about three, double sided rows of candy, bandaids and the normal "stuff". I found out later, a few days before the race, the booths and the three rows of shelving are taken out and replaced, floor to ceiling, with cases of beer! I wish I had taken a picture. The backside of the Deli is lined with coolers and on the right is a long counter with two women cooking lunch. Right of the counter is the display case with shelving containing the pans holding the different items for lunch. There was this green stuff and I didn't know what it was! Everything was fried. The place smelled good and made me hungry. The cashier saw from the car that I was from the North. She was about 50, a little heavy and had one hell of an accent. She called me "honey". Made me feel special until I heard her call the girl behind me in line....."honey". She called everyone "honey". I got my coffee and went back to my office.

There on the desk was a list of a few small signs. As I said. the track was bare bones. In the next few years this would change dramatically! Right now the signs were well in hand. I hadn't seen anyone from the Main Office yet, even though it was fairly close to my sign shop. It was still morning when I finished the list of small signs, so I decided to go outside and enjoy the weather. What a day! Sun, a light breeze, but still I was homesick. I was getting hungry and was thinking of going back to the Deli I found earlier. Thought of even trying some of the "green stuff" I saw earlier. I walk over to the trailer and sit in an old folding chair. AHHaaaaaaa! This is good! Stretch my legs straight out. My knees go "crack"! Around the corner comes Larry, the General Manager. His cigarette smoke preceding him. "Tony," Larry barked. I immediately I got this "bad" feeling. I said "Yes".

It was Tuesday. Things were going good. I was caught up on the signs and looking forward to watching the race on Saturday and Sunday, and most of all, going home! In his hand he was carrying a piece of white plastic. It measured about 33" x 12"(see photo) and it had the Talladega logo on it. Over that, attached with a piece of old masking tape was a piece of transparent paper. It had a small grid pattern on it and it was full of numbers, locating points of the logo that were visible through the paper. It looked well used! I thought, "What the hell is that"? Must be they want another small sign to replace this one. Didn't take long to find out that wasn't the case! He handed it to me and said, "There ya go, it's for the grass. I almost forgot to give it to you". He turned and started to walk away. I said, "What grass"? He turned back and said, "Dick said you were down here to do the grass, this is the layout the other guy used ". I was holding it, looking at it as Larry turned and left. I could feel the color drain from my face. A feeling of pure terror flowed over me! It was like if you went skydiving, jump from the plane and just as you leave the door, you remember you didn't put the chute on! I thought, I am In Deep #%@***ing S**t!111 ! I snap out of it when I hear him say, "See ya later". "What the *@#**%! What am I going to do?" was all I could think! I can't explain it, but I was "cold" on a hot day! I went into the manager's office and said, "I can't do this, I have never done anything like this"! Between puffs on the cigarette, Larry said, "All I know is what Dick said. That’s the logo. We’ll have the paint gun and paint out there for ya when you’re ready. Has to be done before Friday. Might want to start it tomorrow."

Holy #***T!!! I just stood there. Larry looked up and said, "Oh, I forgot, Dick is sending up a painter from Daytona. Should have been here by now". Just then a white pickup truck pulled up. It had Daytona Speedway on the doors. "The White Knight is here to save me," I thought. "That was close, I thought. Just dodged a bullet!" We go out to meet him and this small, white haired man gets out. He was about 60 years old, 5'-6", 150 lbs, and HYPER!! If I stayed around him any length of time, I found myself twisting around, twitching and hyper myself! He never stopped talking! First thing I said to him was, "Hi, am I glad to see you!"". He didn't know how glad! If we were alone I would have kissed him! Well, maybe not. Someone was here to help me paint this logo! The second thing I said was, "Now you can show me how to do the grass, I have never seen anything like this done before!" He looked at me with this blank look on his face and said, "What the hell ya talkin" about? I don't know how the hell to do it, and one thing for sure, I don't want to know. The damn fools would have me going all over the place doing that sh*t!" I said, "Larry said you were a painter." He said, "I am. I paint the retaining walls white at Daytona Speedway. I don't do any lettering." I'm dead! I'm #***ing dead! "Oh s**t"!! I said. I wanna go home! I felt completely lost! I'm cold again! I had no clue on what to do!

Larry said, "Let’s go out and I will show you where the logo goes. We walk to the truck. I follow along like a zombie! I'm in shock! Larry, Mike and I got into his truck and went out to the Tri Oval grass section of the track (six-acres) to see where the logo was to go. I was in the middle. Driving down the old concrete runway wishing I was strapped in a B-24 flying for home. My mind a blur. The windows are down. This makes the smoke from Larry's cigarette swirl around my head. I just kept shaking my head and thinking "Oh God!" We are on Pit Lane and come to a stop. Out of the truck, fresh air! That smoke! We walk out onto the grass a ways, turn around and look toward Pit Lane. "This is about where the logo will go", Larry said. Mike started to say something in a real low voice. I said, "What?" He said," I think I remember him (the other sign man) using long measuring tapes. One up there and one down here" pointing with a crooked finger. This made me think. Some other sign guy did it. I should be able to do it! The only thing is, I don't have much time to figure this out! I kept saying to myself, "Oh s**t, why the hell did I come here!" I could be home working on “smaller signs” in my own shop and having a cold one. I looked at the grass, then at the piece of plastic with the logo on it, then back to the grass. Numbers, grass. Numbers, grass. As I looked at the numbers and thought about the overwhelming size of the grass painting that was to be painted in the Tri-Oval, the look on my face must have been pathetic. I can't explain the feeling! Career ending performance anxiety? Yes. That was the feeling. I wanted to disappear! This huge grass painting was past anything I had ever confronted! I never even cared to know how they did things like this! It was like I was in someone else’s nightmare. When the hell am I going to wake up! Saturday when the race starts and the TV camera’s are panning the Logo for a few million viewers--- that's not there! Too late then. I thought if I failed, Dick (from Daytona Speedway) would never call me back. I had to do this! But how?

In "Lap 4" : How I pulled this off!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

When do we get to read Lap 4?

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who the hell are you, a race track rat, a sign painter or Hemingway reincarnated? Some mighty fine story telling I know that much. Look forward to more laps.

10:03 PM  
Anonymous The Famous said...

Lap 4 should be out today. Every Saturday a new "Lap" will appear! Not Hemmingway, just telling "tales".

10:12 AM  

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