When it comes to audio and visual work at Talladega Superspeedway, one man has left his legacy on the iconic venue – and still does today. His name is Charlie Compton. This upcoming GEICO 500 weekend (April 22-24) marks the 50th anniversary of his tenure at the mammoth, iconic venue, and like he did back in the early years of the historic facility, Compton still takes great pride in what he does at the track that he so dearly loves.
During the last five decades, Compton has worked under six different track presidents as well as the man who built the place – Big Bill France, Sr. And, for each, he has showcased ultimate professionalism and has gone above and beyond to make sure the fans and competition have the best experience at Talladega Superspeedway imaginable.
Compton’s first NASCAR event weekend at Talladega (then called Alabama International Motor Speedway) was during April of 1971, less than a year and a half after the track opened in September of 1969. A self-employed communications engineer in nearby Anniston, AL, he began his career by working on two-way radios for both the local police and sheriff’s departments, and then got a shot to work at the new 2.66-mile race track just down the street. For those first two years, he worked solely on the two-way radios for all of NASCAR’s operation team communications during race weekends.
“I repaired two-way radios the first couple of years, then eventually moved to the track’s sound system, the scoreboards, and fixed and repaired anything and everything brought to me by the track, race teams, drivers and NASCAR,” said Compton, now 79 years young. “Purchasing new was mostly out of the question. We fixed it or did without. If someone had an item at home or at the shop which was needed, it got brought to the track. For this reason we were probably better known just as the ‘Electronics Group.”’
The year 1973 is when Compton took over the track’s complete sound system operations and maintenance. At the time, the mammoth venue was in dire need of new speakers on both the front and back stretches, but didn’t have the funds to purchase new ones. Leave it to Compton to come up with a solution. He went to Talladega’s sister track – Daytona International Speedway – and removed all their old speakers from its backstretch as DIS had purchased new replacements.
“I came back with a pickup truck loaded with used and salt corroded speakers,” he said. “Heck, we used the trip to Daytona Beach as a mini vacation for my family (wife Carol, sons Chuck and Chris). We rebuilt, refinished and tested all of those speakers, returning them to factory specifications and received excellent service from them until the entire speaker system was replaced in 2009. Up to then, it was the only major, one-time upgrade of the sound system in the history of the track. There is no telling how many miles of wiring for the PA system (plus wiring for the LIVE network television & radio productions) we have underground and above ground at this place after all these years.”
In 1974 Compton added another job responsibility – scoreboards. For the first years of the track, scoreboards were manual with workers on a catwalk. They walked along the bottom edge of the display, literally in front of the numbers they had to update for the top-five positions, using hooks. In ’74, new electronic boards were installed. For race weekend help, Compton used temporary workers and gave them credentials for their work, ensuring that he spent minimal money on labor.
“We were all trying to operate profitably, and we were a close-knit family, and would help each other without specifically being asked to do so,” Compton remembered. “I always thought that a company takes on the personality of its leadership and that certainly was the case here at Talladega. It all started with Bill France, Sr. He said to do whatever it takes ‘for the betterment of the customer.’”
Compton’s first interaction with France, Sr. came unexpectedly. While sitting on the floor in the middle of a pile of twisted microphone cables that had not been properly put away, a tall shadow of a man with a booming voice entered the doorway. It was France.
“’Son…all I want to know is…are you gaining on it?’” Compton said France, Sr. asked. “I was told by more than one person that if Mr. France called you ‘son,’ it meant he liked you. He called me ‘son’ up until his last trip to Talladega. There is no way anyone could be around him without coming away with a good lesson of just doing things right and treating people fair. I might not have been the best student, but I tried to be. I had such a respect for him.”
In 1986, Compton met the man who he would cherry pick to take over his position nearly 30 years later – David Dean. One of the first major duties for Dean was working on TVs (for suites, media center, timing and scoring, etc.), before being mentored by Compton on the audio system. “That was really when he took me under his wing,” Dean recalled. “Everything that he did from that point forward, I was part of. Since then it’s been just like a father-son relationship.”
In 2013, Compton “semi-retired” from his duties at the track, but still comes to each of Talladega’s weekends to assist Dean, spending several weeks in advance to assist. Just a few years back, he took a break of his duties to serve as the Honorary Starter for the General Tire 200 ARCA Menards Series race, an opportunity he cherished.
“He is a major part of what we do, and it means a lot. I just tell him it’s me who’s going to sink or swim now,” said Dean. “Charlie has taught me patience. He was always thinking how to make things better and I’ve tried to adapt that same mindset. There are not enough words to say what Charlie means to this track. It has meant a lot to him to try to keep folks happy. He didn’t want anything to go wrong on his watch then or now. Talladega Superspeedway wouldn’t be what it is today without his efforts.”
So, when fans are listening to the Motor Racing Network and the PA announcers on more than the 600 grandstand & infield speakers during the GEICO 500 weekend, or glancing at the 250-plus TVs throughout the property, or taking a look at the 7,440-light bulb scoring tower managed by Dean’s crew, or really anything electronic at the track, think about – and thank the track’s good friend – ‘ol Charlie Compton.
In addition to the GEICO 500 NASCAR Cup Series race (2:00 p.m. CDT), which will see NASCAR’s Next Gen car on the 31-degree banking for the first time, Saturday will feature a doubleheader including the General Tire 200 (12:00 p.m. CDT) for the ARCA Menards Series and the Ag-Pro 300 (3:00 p.m. CDT) for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. KLĒNSKIN Pole Qualifying to determine the starting lineup for the GEICO 500 will also be on Saturday, beginning at 10:00 a.m. CDT. Fans with a Sunday GEICO 500 ticket will also get admission to the traditional Saturday Night Infield Concert featuring country music artist Riley Green.
To see all weekend admission opportunities, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 1-877-Go2-DEGA. Several options await fans like the fan-favorite 140,000 square-foot Talladega Garage Experience, which includes up-close access to Garage Viewing Walkways, Pre-Race Ceremonies and Victory Lane. In addition, there are hospitality areas such as Fan Suites, Premium Box seating, and Busch Balcony, along with incredible Kid’s programming.