Over the past few years, a handful of NASCAR race teams have paid tribute to the state of Alabama’s two major FBS football programs with special paint schemes at the first of two races at Talladega.
Somewhat appropriately, a head coach who loves fast-paced offenses became the latest from the state honored at one of the fastest tracks in stock car racing.
Sunday afternoon, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn served as the pace car driver for the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega while Alabama governor Robert Bentley merely served as the Grand Marshal of the 90th race at the legendary layout. Malzahn did a couple of practice laps around the 2.66 mile track as well as his duties of leading the field of 43 cars to the green flag.
As most people would be, Malzahn was impressed with the high banks of the track — even as he was going just 55 miles per hour around the 33-degree banks instead of the standard 200-plus at the restrictor plate track.
“I tell you what, when you get here and you see the track and we got a chance to drive around for a practice lap, it’s really hard to believe they’re going that fast that close to each other,” the coach, who was attending his first NASCAR race, said. “What really stood out to me is the steepness of the turns. It’s got a little bit of a wow factor.”
Malzahn also took to Twitter to express his newfound appreciation for the drivers in the sport.
After his prerace pace car duties were completed, Malzahn spent a portion of the afternoon sitting atop the pit box of six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
During last year’s May race, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron served as the pace car driver as well. In 2012, Alabama legend Bear Bryant rode shotgun at the spring race to continue what’s become an annual football-related tradition at the track.
(Photo credit: Talladega Superspeedway on Twitter)