If the kids in Avondale are saying “Vroom, vroom!” Wednesday, they’ll have good reason after a visit by tree-planting NASCAR drivers, the chairman of the Talladega Superspeedway and Birmingham Mayor William Bell.
Just before planting new trees in Avondale Park, three drivers from NASCAR’s Camping Truck World Series will visit Avondale Elementary School to participate in a question-and-answer session and read books with the students. “Children are the future of our sport as far as fans coming out and watching [the drivers] race,” says Russell Branham, Talladega Superspeedway’s director of public relations. The drivers also wanted to take advantage of their time in Birmingham and, Branham says, “have some fun with the kids.”
These drivers are some of the “good guys,” Branham says. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, driver of the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Good Sams Toyota, is the first graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. Jeb Burton, a man with “ability that goes through his veins,” as Branham puts it, drives the No. 4 Arrowhead Chevy. Timothy Peters, driver of the No. 17 Red Horse Racing Toyota, recently won at Las Vegas. All three rank in the top ten for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.
These three men, Branham says, know what it takes to race at Talladega, “the biggest, baddest racetrack on the planet,” which is no mean feat. “Toss 43 drivers into a mix at 200 miles per hour, four-wide, [and it] becomes a huge thinking man’s game of strategy: where to be at what lap and when to make your move.” This on a track 2.66 miles long with a banking of 33 degrees.
Today, though, the only track under their feet will be the pond walkway in Avondale Park, where the drivers are participating in a tree-planting ceremony with Birmingham Mayor William Bell and Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch. At 10:30 a.m. the quintet is planting a tree to represent 90 more that will ship in November after the October 18-20 Camping World RV Sales 500 weekend, in which the three drivers will race. The balance of the trees will be planted in parks throughout the city of Birmingham.
In conjunction with the Arbor Day Foundation, the trees represent NASCAR’s Green Initiative, a program the organization began in an effort to lead environmental awareness in sports. The Green Initiative, begun in 2008, has led to research some might find surprising, showing, for instance, that NASCAR fans are “100 percent more likely than non-fans to view their households as ‘very green’” and that NASCAR’s top three series use gas which is a “15 percent ethanol-blended fuel” and, according to Branham, “reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent.”
The trees also represent Talladega Superspeedway’s commitment to a partnership with Birmingham, roots reaching deeply in the red soil between the two cities. “Birmingham is a place we actually steer a lot of our fans to,” Branham says, citing the excellent hotels and restaurants. The track does so by discounts available on DegaRooms.com, which, according to Branham, often has better deals than anything available around Talladega.
The partnership with “Birmingham is very, very vital to Talladega Superspeedway,” Branham says, and is a relatively new endeavor. The organization is “getting to know the folks of Birmingham” and “working with the mayor.” During last month’s Civil Rights-themed Empowerment Week, for example, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Greg Biffle honored first responders at Birmingham Fire Station 1.
Wednesday’s tree planting event will also include a lunch for the media at Saw’s Soul Kitchen Restaurant, and drivers Peters and Burton will visit the University of Alabama-Birmingham campus to meet college students, tweeting the details. Driver Wallace will be available for photographs and autographs at the Fred’s Super Dollar in Moody beginning at 2:30 p.m.
These events “fit the mold” of the developing close partnership, Branham says. “When you think about Talladega,” he notes, “ you ought to think about Birmingham.”
The featured image for this post was provided courtesy of Talladega Superspeedway.