On Sunday, nearly 80,000 people packed into the Talladega grandstands to see Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last race, the 2017 Alabama 500. Of those 80,000 fans, 2,500 were students who picked up tickets through the Chase U $24 student ticket program.
The students mainly hailed from Auburn University and the University of Alabama, and both groups made this clear during the many yellow and red flags that stopped the on-track action.
The students sang competing renditions of Bodda Getta and Rammer Jammer and chanted “War eagle” and “Roll tide” at one another repeatedly.
One Auburn student, Brooke Spann, junior in animal science, even brought her Auburn shaker from Jordan-Hare into the grandstands.
The racing was more eventful than usual, with 30 lead changes among 16 different drivers. There were 11 crashes, collecting 26 of the 40 cars, and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a chance to win on the last lap.
Ultimately, Joey Logano blocked Earnhardt for teammate Brad Keselowski, who came away with the victory, locking himself into the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs.
“Seeing the stands filled more than they have been in years for Earnhardt’s last race was a sight to see,” said Savannah Frederick, senior in agricultural communication. “It was like a music festival for rednecks out here. It didn’t end how I hoped it might, but I still made some great memories.”
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Unlike most of the fans at the track, Frederick wasn’t pulling for Earnhardt, at least not primarily — she likes Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a Mississippi native who won his first race at Talladega last spring.
“I like Stenhouse because he has a racing name,” Frederick said. “There’s too many normal white-bread names in NASCAR today. Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano — those aren’t racing names. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — now that’s a racing name.”
Madison Dobbs, senior in exercise science, is partial to Chase Elliott, son of Bill Elliott and heir to Jeff Gordon’s old 24 car.
"Chase is cute,” Dobbs said. "And he’s our age. I might have to go down to the Big One on the Boulevard next year and give him my number.”
Though Earnhardt is leaving, Elliott and Stenhouse represent hope for the sport’s Southern fanbase. While the Southland once had a monopoly on racing success, a driver from below the Mason-Dixon hasn’t won a championship since Bobby Labonte took the Cup in 2000.
Other students were less focused on the nuts and bolts of the race and the potential playoff implications.
“I just had a hell of a time,” said Jonathan Schmitt, senior in marketing. “Dale yeah, baby.”
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