I fulfilled an ambition last month to watch, for the first time, some top-class motor racing in the US. With lucky timing — cheap flights available at the same time as half-term coincided with the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Talladega — off went family Rendell to the deep south.
Some say Talladega Superspeedway is the home of Nascar, and the 2.66-mile track is certainly famous for its 212mph fastest-ever lap and incident-packed racing.
For this race qualifying was 181mph, although speeds were literally bumped-up in practice to 198mph courtesy of drafting, the unusual practice of pairs of cars teaming-up to push each-other bumper-to-bumper.
Needless to say the racing was fast and furious, the lead changed constantly, and nine cautions ensured the 188 laps whizzed by in three hours or so.
Before the start there was razzmatazz aplenty — a cavalcade of ambulances, fire appliances and police interceptors with lights flashing, then army parachutists, an air-force jet flypast and a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by an army choir. Strangely the crowd didn’t join in, unlike a noisy British sporting crowd.
I also now know that ’Bama race fans don’t care for Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch – they got roundly boo-ed. ‘Busch is from out west,’ drawled a local disdainfully. Favourites are Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and, of course, Dale Earnhardt Jnr.
When Tony Stewart moved into the lead for a few laps, the roar of the crowd could be heard over 40 screaming V8s. Spine-tingling.
The key point for any Brit thinking of doing the same is that attending was simplicity itself.
I booked $100 tickets from the UK, a week in advance, and coughed up another $50 for the pit-lane walkabout, which I’d say was an essential part of the experience.