There are several famous short tracks across the country, but most people know I 55 Speedway only as the track that NASCAR racing legend Bobby Allison once called home. The half-mile, asphalt speedway sits on a knoll in the middle of rural Mayberry, Alabama, where the cars are often as much a part of the scenery as the trees and the birds. Today, more than half a century after its opening, I 55 still shares a unique atmosphere where racing is as close to a pure sport as you can get without actually being in the flesh of the competitors.
How Does It Work?
On a typical Saturday night during the summer, you’ll find mostly adult men wearing shirts adorned with images of their favorite drivers, eating buckets of chicken and enjoying the intimate atmosphere as drivers shake hands after the race. It’s a throwback to a simpler time, when family was more important and men would rather talked racing than golfed.
The track itself is an interesting study in geometry. The long, gradual hills make for some great racing and allow the average car to keep its momentum as it goes around the track. A tight turn right before the entrance to the backstretch is known as the “key”, because it forces the cars to slow down and stop before heading into the backstretch. The lack of corners and the relatively small size of the track create slower speeds and a more exciting racing environment. The racing doesn’t get too hectic, since there’s nowhere to go but forward, and it stays close to the track, so there’s plenty of room to dive and slide around the turns. It’s also safe to assume that most of the fans at I 55 are there because they love racing and the camaraderie that goes along with it. The track is notorious for its spectacular sunset, where the yellow, orange, and red streaks across the sky make for some pretty pictures. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Tennessee border from the top of those hills.
Who Owns I 55?
As the years went by and the population changed, the land that housed I 55 began to see an increase in value, mainly due to its rich history and proximity to a major city. The people who owned the property before were smart enough to realize the potential that the track presented, and they began the process of buying out the smaller shareholders. Finally, in 2012, the track was bought out by a man named Mark Henry, who also owns several other NASCAR tracks, including Talladega and Tallapoosa.)
Henry has been very busy in the last few years. He’s made several renovations to the track and has also expanded the size of the grandstand. He’s even upgraded the food and drink, bringing in trucks that serve up all-you-can-eat chicken and waffles, as well as offering individual hot dogs and snow cones. Kids will even get their own trampoline to jump on during the breaks in the action, and there are several places for parents to sit and relax while their little ones entertain themselves in the near vicinity. It’s a veritable Destination Welcome Center for families, and it makes the trip more fun for all involved.
The Legacy Of Bobby Allison
Bobby Allison first gained fame as a driver, winning the second race in the 1967 Grand National Series. Since then, he’s gone on to become one of the most recognizable faces in the sport, appearing in several films and adverting for brands such as Ford and Miller Lite. He’s also been actively involved in politics, famously working for several presidents and helping to secure their respective legacies. He even served as chairman of the 1992 Democratic National Convention, which saw Bill Clinton being inaugurated for the first of what would be many terms in the White House.
More recently, he’s been very vocal about his support for Donald Trump, attending several of the president-elect’s rallies and going on Twitter to cheer him on as he engages with the American people on election night. Trump has since named him as US vice-chairman of one of his transition teams and has invited him to be his inaugural chief of staff. It’s an incredible testament to his influence in today’s racing world that a man who began driving just six years ago is already held in such high regard. He’ll be sorely missed, as few public figures in today’s sport can boast the level of engagement that Bobby Allison has displayed over the years.
The Sunset Of An Era
Although modern technology has made much difference in the last several decades, none is quite as transformative as the invention of the cell phone. Today, it’s hard to imagine a world without them, as they’ve become such a fundamental part of our day-to-day lives. They’re also so small that it’s difficult to think of a world where we wouldn’t be able to fit them all in our pockets. It’s strange to think that during one of the most exciting periods in I 55’s history, the track would see the invention of a completely new genre of phone; one that not even the most dedicated race fan would want to live without. It would seem that even the drivers have gotten in on the action, trading barbs with fans on social media about the inadvisability of going on an impromptu drive in the wilderness with nothing more than a cell phone to guide them.
Despite all the changes that have happened at I 55 over the years, it still retains that special atmosphere that makes it such a joy to drive and a special place for those who visit. The sunset is still one of the most magnificent things that you’ll see as you’re driving around the track. The cars are also a sight to behold. Most notably, the trucks from the chicken and waffle food trucks offer a spectacular display in the form of the massive metal cooking machines that serve as their domes. It would appear that even the most dedicated foodies have gotten in on the action, as well, since the line to get a bite to eat stretches all the way from the parking lot to the backstop. The only thing that would make this place even more special is if the drivers were still there, hanging out with the fans and enjoying each other’s company as much as we are enjoying this article.