TALLADEGA, Ala. – While Thanksgiving week means family gatherings for the holiday, college football regular-season finale games and the beginning of deer hunting season, it also marks the end of an era at Talladega Superspeedway.
The historic venue, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, will say goodbye to Chairman Grant Lynch, the patriarch of the 2.66-mile venue for more than 26 years who will retire at week’s end.
The likeable, high-energy Lynch, who joined the Talladega Superspeedway staff in January of 1993, has since been one of the most respected individuals in the state of Alabama and in NASCAR for his countless contributions to so many during his tenure.
During his reign, Lynch has overseen many changes at Talladega, but he saved the best for last with the venue’s $50 million infield transformation project, featuring the fan-friendly Talladega Garage Experience, which debuted last month during the track’s NASCAR playoff doubleheader to rave reviews.
In fact, Lynch calls spearheading the Transformation project his proudest moment over the last quarter century and change.
“I’d say absolutely the proudest moment for me has been watching the team here take on the challenge of the Talladega Infield Experience and building the Talladega Garage Experience,” Lynch noted. “To watch the team, and pretty much Brian Crichton (new Talladega Superspeedway President) leading the way in building a $50 million project … it is by far the largest amount of money we’ve ever had to build a project at Talladega. And to watch the team work together during that really high tension 12 to 13 month period, and build what they did, and get it delivered on time and on budget is one of the true things that I’ve seen.
“And then to see the drivers become involved almost immediately because they knew they were in something unique, that nothing had ever been done like this. And, I think it got them to interact with the fans in a very positive way,” he added. “I think the drivers got into the fact that they were in something very unique, and we have created something where they can interact with the fans, but they can still get back and do what they need to do as well.
“All in all, I think it worked out great for the drivers and it certainly has worked out great for us and our fans.”
In reminiscing on his memories at Talladega, Lynch called to mind one of the most-famous races in NASCAR’s seven-decade history as his personal favorite during his tenure.
“If I was having to pick one race that probably [is] the greatest race that’s ever been held at Talladega, I don’t see how you could leave out Dale [Earnhardt] Sr.’s last victory here (in October of 2000),” Lynch recalled. “He was running back in the low 20s and he was kind of in the pack back there … and it was down to about five laps to go, and he was kind of jammed up. But I think Kenny Wallace got behind him and started pushing him up through the middle and he continued to move up, and within a couple of laps, he was actually leading the race.
“If you ever go back and watch the film (video), you can just hear the crowd start to murmur, and then it gets louder and then it gets louder. And, then finally, he gets to the front and goes into the lead and every single person in the grandstands is standing up and they’re yelling and they’re cheering. And, everybody that I talk to or everybody that gets to see this, [I tell them] you should watch that whole film (video),” Lynch continued. “It was awesome to be part of that and to have Dale win, and that was his last victory because we lost him the next year when he was at Daytona.
“That, to me, is probably one of the most impressive victories I’ve ever seen here and I think the fans really, really enjoyed it.”
One of the traditions that Lynch will take with him when he retires is his trademark long-billed hat, which has its own story to it, as he noted.
“I guess the long-billed hat stems from all the way back when I was a little kid and my daddy started taking me hunting and fishing at a very early age, and he wore a big billed fishing hat,” explained Lynch. “And, so when I’d been here a while, and of course hats are synonymous with NASCAR and everything else, I decided ‘well I want a hat.’ And so I said ‘well I’m just going to build me a big-billed hat.’ And about that time we started saying “This is more than a race… this is Talladega,” and so I decided that’s what I was going to put on my hat, the big billed hat.
“It’s kind of become my trademark, I suppose.”
As he prepares to exit the facility he’s been known for for so long, Lynch had one final message for Talladega’s legions of fans, as well as plans for what he’ll do in retirement.
“Come back!” Lynch implored. “We’ve built a $50 million project in our infield. We built it for the fans. They’re going to be able to do things here in the Talladega Garage Experience that can’t be duplicated right now at any other facility.
“As for me, I’m a huge outdoors man. I’m going to hunt and fish a lot and everything,” Lynch added. “I hope to travel some with (wife) Marsha and the girls and I look forward to that. I’m going to be on some boards going forward in the community and statewide, and I’ll be doing some of that as well.”
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