Saturday, October 8, 2022

The Road To Talladega

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

When I talk to my friends in Sports Media, they only see me as a person that gets locked in and on the surface covering the major sports.

But for those that I open up to, there is another side that has me roaring inside.

I have such a Deep Passion for Auto Racing that I’ve been following this sport for years.

I enjoy the sounds of Indy Cars and the fascinating aspect of NASCAR that you can take a full size automobiles and drive them at high speeds not only on street courses but on ovals.

The adrenaline rush I get at these race tracks is indescribable!

Through the years, I’ve been at numerous race tracks whether it was to be a fan, work as a member of the media or just take ride-alongs. 

Two weeks ago, I experienced my biggest level of satisfaction when Russell Branham, who is the Southeast Regional Coordinator for Talladega Superspeedway, Daytona International Raceway and Miami-Homestead Speedway, invited Myself and Photographer Candy Ebling to cover last weekends event in Talladega.

Despite the fact that the deadline had passed, Branham looked me straight in the face and said if you want to cover this event, you’re approved!

As much as I would have liked to take last weekend off, this offer was too good to pass up and I pounced on it! 

Throughout the years, I’ve always loved watching races at Talladega. 

Through the voices and faces of Ken Squier, Mike Joy, Buddy Baker, and Darryl Waltrip, just the thought of seeing drivers hit speeds of 200 MPH on a tri-oval  Superspeedway, and seeing dramatic collisions that change the outcome of the race, is truly incredible.

At the end of last year, Ebling and I decided to drive by Talladega off I-20 after a trip back home to the Midwest and check the place out. 

I told her one of these days, it’s on my bucket list to be here on a race weekend.

I never visualized it would happen so quickly. 

But my philosophy in life is to live for the moment and treat everyday as if it were my last!

As this quickly came together, I had to incorporate my Social Media Responsibilities into a Hectic Broadcast Schedule to pull this off.

On Friday, September 30, we departed South Florida at 6 ET and made the trek to Alabama. 

What awaited us was a 12-hour drive and while we researched the entire week what hotel we’d stay at, we finally caught a break when we got to Oxford, Alabama when there was a last minute cancellation. 

Thankfully, we got the hotel before we had to go to the track, and caught a couple hours of sleep.

But there was one interesting moment on my way to Alabama. 

Unfortunately, I got a ticket in Georgia and the police officer said I was going 18 MPH over the speed limit. 

Being a person from out of state didn’t help my cause.

When I was intending to go to a rest area, I didn’t use my turn signal and changed very quickly three lanes.

I was extremely lucky that when I told the Georgia State Trooper that I was covering the Talladega Race, he saw that my driving record in Florida was clean, and elected to issue a citation for not using my turn signal. 

I thanked him for doing that and acknowledged that anytime you’re driving in the middle of the night, it’s easy and smart to pull that driver over wondering if  that person is illegally impaired.

Thankfully, I don’t drink and drive! 

Nevertheless, when we got the credentials, and got settled into the Media Center, the first person I ran into was Branham. 

He said to me, “I’m glad that you’re here.” I responded, “Thanks to you, so am I and I intend to enjoy this experience and plan to come back regularly. Now I need you to find me a quiet room so I can do my radio show real soon.”

Branham wasted no time, getting me that room I needed, because on Sports Talk Saturday with Mark Mancini and Bruce Kessinger, former Detroit Lion Offensive Lineman Keith Dorney, was the guest. 

I worked with Dorney when I covered the Lions in the 1980’s. 

Even Branham knew who this guy was.

This show was one of our best as 625 callers were there to listen to this and I told these guys that under normal circumstances with the hectic travel schedule, I might have taken the week off.

But not in this case. 

We had a guest that I knew would draw good numbers and I had a chance to promote Talladega Superspeedway throughout the broadcast.

Once the show was over, it was time to acclimate to my weekend surroundings, get to work and soak it all in!

There were other races on Saturday and I chose to watch them in the Media Center and continue to work on Social Media. 

Multi-tasking was something I had to do a lot of this weekend because a lot of what I had to do was not only promote racing, but our traffic here at the Tribune is driven by Pro and College Football and I had to attack Social Media aggressively.

We left the track around 5:30 PM local time and decided to go back to the hotel and get some rest so we’d be ready for the next day.

We checked out the next morning at 8 AM and returned to the speedway. 

When we got there, I sought recommendations from Branham as to the best place to watch the race. 

He said it depends on what you’re looking to do. 

If I wanted to watch the entire race from above, that would have been the way to do things. The Media Center would provide me with all of the video opportunities that I needed.

What’s different about this track is you have to drive to the other side of it and there is separate parking for the Press Box. 

Branham, accommodated us with two parking passes. 

One for the Media Center and the other for the Press Box.

I made the decision to go the the Press Box Early and do a preliminary video of the entire track and told Ebling the next time we return here next spring, we’ll watch a Saturday race.

Branham, told us how to get to the Press Box, but there was one instance that totally annoyed the heck out of me!

As were trying to figure out what turn we needed to make to get to the Press Box, there was an idiotic African American Cop that slapped my hood when I couldn’t hear him as I was backing up my Jeep in an effort to make the proper turn.

He’s lucky that I was tired, new to the track, and if he had done any damage to my vehicle, I would have taken his photo, confronted him verbally, chewed him out, then I would have sued him to repair the damage to my vehicle! 

Furthermore, I would have destroyed him on Social Media!

Thankfully, it never came to that and we took care of business. 

I will not tolerate rude behavior from an officer that has a badge and abuses his authority especially when I’m there to promote economic growth in the area, attending a bucket list, race that everyone should see once in their lifetime.

Once we took care of business early, that turned out to be a shrewd move. 

Even Branham told me that was a good idea to do this early because the traffic at 11 AM Local Time would have been problematic.

I never mentioned this incident to Branham, though I will at a later date. 

I knew Russ was busy dealing with the demands of running a race and that’s the last thing he’d want to hear about. 

I was determined that one bad egg wasn’t going to impact my attitude in a negative manner.

But when I return to Talladega again, at least now I have a better feel for the place things will get much easier. 

Also, we’ll spend at least four days in the area.

The reason why going to the Press Box early was a shrewd move was there was a Media Availability with Auburn University Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl. 

I managed to get a pair of questions in with Pearl and Branham told the coach that I came up from South Florida to cover the race. 

I’ve always wanted to meet Pearl and respect everything about the guy on and off the basketball court! Mission accomplished!

The videos in this story are in the Press Box, Pearl, who is seated next to the title Sponsor from YellaWood, and the race winner Chase Elliott.

For a race that is known for having multiple accidents, aside from an early nine car incident, this was an exciting event lots lead changes. The last statistic I jotted down was 47 and that was the most of any race this season. 

Branham also told me that during the entire week leading up to the race, the driving was clean with practically no incidents. It doesn’t bother me one bit if there are no accidents because I don’t like to see drivers get injured.

I was able to appreciate this more because Branham gave me an opportunity to drive at Homestead-Miami.

In the end, the most popular driver on the NASCAR Circuit, Chase Elliott earned the triumph and also recorded his 18th career win. 

I enjoyed my time watching the festivities in Victory Lane!

I even caught with NASCAR Legend Jeff Gordon, whom I saw for the first time since I covered a race Phoenix in November of 2001. 

It was great catching up with him. We had a short and pleasant exchange.

I also worked with Jeff at the Michigan International Raceway as well as Homestead-Miami, which I’ll be returning to from October 21-23.

Was Talladega everything that I expected to be?

No! 

It was better! 

When you drive into the track, since there is so much space on Speedway Drive, the Campers and RV’s were all over the place. 

I couldn’t believe how many more when you get inside the track. I don’t know if the right words are mind boggling or overwhelming, but I was truly amazed at what I saw!

My Road to Talladega was traveled through a dream that subsequently became a reality and it was achieved thanks to Russell Branham!

But you can rest assure that act two will be even better than act one, because I’ll know what needs to get accomplished, I’ll be a lot more prepared and certainly more rested. 

We’ll check out the Motor Sports Hall of Fame as well as a suggestion that Branham made about a Motorcyle place approximately 30 miles away.

When we left the track, I had a podcast about basketball at 7:30 ET, but I wasn’t at a loss for words about my experience at Talladega. 

This basketball show that I appeared on talked about the NBA before 2000. 

This was so easy as I was able to tie in the incredible history of a track where speeds can reach 200 MPH and there is no shortage of action on the high tri-oval banking of this amazing track.

The 12-hour trek to South Florida created to shortage of stories for those individuals that wanted to listen to them!

That’s My Story on The Road to Talladega and what we did when we arrived in Alabama!

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com and you can find him on Twitter @TribuneSouth.

To hear his broadcasts, Subscribe to the South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel.


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