When Eddie Wood, Paul Menard and the other members of the No. 21 Menards/Tarkett Flooring team arrive at Talladega Superspeedway for this weekend’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 they might need a map to find their way around.
Since the NASCAR circuit last visited the track in April, the track has undergone a $50 million “Transformation” that includes a new tunnel under the track, a new Cup garage and numerous infield improvements designed to enhance the at-track experience for fans.
Eddie Wood is one of those long-time members of the garage community that has seen all of the previous upgrades throughout the track’s 50-year history and is anxious to check out the latest.
“I was fortunate to get to work in the first garage at Talladega, which was made from an old bridge that the governor of Alabama gave to Mr. France,” Wood said. “And it doesn’t seem like that long ago that the garage we were in back in the spring was built.”
The new facility is far beyond any improvements of the past.
“I’m glad to see Talladega making changes to stay current with other facilities on the circuit,” Wood said. “The things they’re doing for the fans are really good. It gives fans a much better experience of going to a NASCAR race.
“It’s a behind-the-scenes experience because they can get closer to the cars and to the people that work on them.”
Although the changes in the infield of the track are unprecedented for Talladega, Wood expects the events on the track to be typical for the giant, 2.66-mile superspeedway, which means there will be plenty of drama.
“The thinking used to be that you wanted to do what you had to do to be in position to go for the win with 10 laps to go, but now it’s more like being there with one to go,” he said. “It’s the same for everybody. You have to get through the unusual happenings at Talladega.”
And he said those “unusual happenings” don’t always involve a “Big One” multi-car crash, a fairly common occurrence on a track where drivers can run three- or four-wide and 10-rows deep.
“It can go all green flag all the way to the end,” he said. “It’s happened before, just like it did at Dover last Sunday.”
Qualifying for the 1000Bulbs.com 500 is set for Saturday at 3:35 p.m. (4:35 Eastern Time), and the race is scheduled to start just after 1 p.m. (2 p.m. Eastern) with TV coverage on NBC.