TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ty Dillon was eager to get the rundown from his brother.
On Wednesday at Richmond Raceway, Austin Dillon got a chance to test a prototype of the NextGen car NASCAR plans to introduce into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2021. The car was assembled by Richard Childress Racing in collaboration with NASCAR.
Before practice on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, Ty got feedback from his brother.
“Yeah, I just talked to him right before first practice for about 20 minutes,” Ty Dillon said. “He is really excited about that car. It’s totally different. There are so many things different about it that I’m like, ‘That’s going to happen? They are going to do this with that car?’ I would have no clue what that look or feels like.
“He said it was crazy and a whole lot different. It’s exciting for our sport. Our sport needs to continue to grow and evolve. That’s the kind of steps we need to take in all aspects of the sport.”
The early returns indicate the NextGen car should set a new performance standard for NASCAR’s top series.
“All he told me is that it stops really good, it turns really good, it feels lighter and faster,” Ty said of Austin’s test run in the car. “Just some different little things and some new unique aspects that I didn’t even know were things on the car they are working on trying. It’s all still in a development stage of a car, but it sounds exciting. I think it’s going to be a lot of good things for the sport…
“I think the car reacts more to driver input and driver ability… It gives the driver more opportunity to show what he can showcase. That’s exciting for all of us.”
Talladega Superspeedway was the vision of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., known throughout racing circles as “Big Bill.”
So when Talladega executives were trying to come up with a name for the 35,000-square-foot centerpiece to a massive infield renovation, “Big Bill’s Social Club” was the suggestion that stuck.
The issue was how to make the new area fit the image of Talladega. The sort of pristine overhaul that transformed sister superspeedway Daytona into the premier showplace in motorsports wouldn’t conform to the more rough-hewn character of Talladega.
“We literally put everything up new and then paid a lady to come in and paint it all to look old,” said Talladega Chairman Grant Lynch, who is retiring after 26 years at the 2.66-mile track. “So that’s how we did it. She painted all that stuff out there, and you walk up there, and you say, ‘Golly, this looks old — and it does.’
“She did a wonderful job, and I think it gives you a different feel when you walk in there, ‘cause you feel like you’re in Talladega.”
It’s difficult to tell at a glance, but the aged, rusty look of Big Bill’s is artificial. What is quite real is the atmosphere it lends to NASCAR’s largest closed course.
“We’re just as pumped up as we can be,” Lynch said. “The folks that we’re talking to going in and out of it are kind of mesmerized by the size and scope and magnitude of it. All I can say is, I think we’re delivering on our promise to give the fans something special here at Talladega.”
Breast cancer survivors honored
One by one — helmets still on their heads, HANS devices around their shoulders — a group of breast cancer survivors emerged from specially-painted pink Talladega Superspeedway pace cars grinning ear-to-ear and raising their arms in triumph.
“Very, very, VERY fun,’’ a smiling Deanna Dean, 53, of nearby Oxford, Ala., said after walking away from a ride with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Ty Dillon.
It was a welcome and highly-appreciated event at the track for local breast cancer survivors — part of “Chevrolet Cares” and its Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Program. It included breakfast, a pace car ride on the Talladega high-banks and autograph session with Chevy drivers Dillon and May’s Talladega Cup race winner Chase Elliott, of Hendrick Motorsports.
Dean, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer five years ago, has attended this Chevrolet event for years. Not necessarily a “huge” NASCAR fan before this breast cancer event, Dean said, “I am now.’’
“These drivers have been so nice and to do all this for a bunch of breast cancer survivors and thrill us like that, that is special,’’ Dean said. “I will see them in the race and say, ‘oh, he was really sweet.’”
“It feels like someone is saying, ‘we know your life has changed and you went through this hard thing and here’s a little something for you.’ It feels like a gift after cancer. And I meet some Stage 4 ladies here every year and you are reminded to be thankful, to be grateful that you made it through your journey.
“It’s a kick in the butt reminder to be grateful. On the days you feel bad and are discouraged, you remember to be grateful. You meet amazing people here.’’
One of those tough Stage 4 survivors, Suzanna Townsend, 53, of Birmingham, was also at the track early Saturday morning — wearing a bright pink wig and some impressive cowboy boots. A long-time teacher — who holds a master’s degree — and is mom to three adult children — Townsend is an especially inspiring story. And spirit.
First diagnosed with breast cancer on Aug. 10, 2012 — yes, most survivors remember the exact date — she found out only Friday night that doctors have discovered a long-term, inoperable brain tumor was “active” now. Obviously, her world has been turned upside down, but she smiled broadly standing in the Talladega pits and shared that “The good news is I’m here and the doctor told me, ‘Go ride, you need to live.’”
So she and her husband, Jay, stopped by Party City to buy the pink wig on Friday, attended the Chevy event Saturday morning and will be on a conference call with her doctors about her diagnosis later that afternoon.
She said her ride with Dillon was a highlight and that the Germain Racing driver was kind and encouraging in even the few minutes they shared on track.
“He was grateful that I was there and wished me all the best,’’ she said of her ride with Dillon.
“I’m glad to be here, I’m glad to feel so alive,’’ Townsend said following her hot laps around Talladega. “That made me feel awesome.’’