Woody: Monaco Vs. ‘Dega – Viva La Difference

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 28 2009
The start of the spring race at Talladega. Monaco, it is not. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

The start of the spring race at Talladega. Monaco, it is not. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer

Earlier this year my RacinToday.com cohort Jonathan Ingram reminisced about his first visit to Monaco for the Grand Prix. Allow me to wax similarly nostalgic about my first trip to one of my favorite venues:

Talladega. White-knuckle, breath-taking Talladega down in sweet-home Alabama.

The asphalt had barely cooled on the mammoth track – at 2.6 miles it was bigger than Daytona, bigger than Indy – when my sports editor told me to go down and check it out.

Jonathan wrote that he had trouble getting a press pass for his first Grand Prix; when I called to check on a press pass for my first Talladega they didn’t quibble. All they asked was “how many?” Back then NASCAR was starved for attention.

Same with the motel. Ingram recalled that a room in Monaco’s Hotel de Paris would set you back $1,250 a night with a seven-night minimum.

As I recall, the truck-stop hotel that was Talladega’s “media headquarters” cost $35 a night. The rooms smelled of diesel fuel, dust and disinfectant and some of the big rigs parked outside our room kept their generators growling all night long.

A towel tacked over the window served as a curtain.

Speaking of towels, the second year that we stayed there my sportswriter buddy Joe Caldwell brought his own. Also his own soap and washcloth.

The Hotel de Paris it wasn’t.

Jonathan said some visiting fans opted for harbor yachts, starting at $100,000. At Talladega there were a lot of bass boats on the Coosa River.

For evening entertainment, fans in Monaco flocked to the posh casinos; at Talladega we mostly flocked to a road house called Frank’s.

On weekends Frank’s had a live band (“Who’d want to watch a dead band?” Caldwell always wondered), a parquet dance floor, two-inch-thick steaks and a belt-busting sea-food buffet.

There was no casino but we could usually get a poker game up back at the El Cockaracha.

If a visitor craved more lively entertainment he could risk venturing into one of the honky-tonks scattered around the area. They were easy to find – just follow the sirens and flashing blue flights.

My buddy Don Christopher and I started to go into one such joint late one night. As we pulled into the gravel parking lot we could hear squeals and laughter and breaking glass over the blare of country music. The doorman/bouncer said it was BYOB with a $5 cover. A hand-lettered sign over the screen door declared: “Please Check Weapons Before Entering.”

As Don and I had no weapons to check, we decided we might not be dressed for the occasion. We returned to the El Cockaracha to join the poker game.

I’m sure the Grand Prix is a splendid event but give me a good back-stretch battle at Talladega. And I realize the glitz and dazzle of Casino Square must be breath-taking, but have you ever been in the Talladega infield on a hot Saturday night?

Unlike Jonathan, I have no Mystic Memories of Monaco to sustain me in my twilight years. But I’ve got my Tantalizing Tales of Talladega.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 28 2009
No Comment

Comments are closed.