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Campers pack RV lots despite economy, gas prices

Category: UNSPECIFIED
Source: The Anniston Star
Publish Date: Friday, October 3, 2008
Summary: Despite a wheezing economy and staggering gas prices -- Alabama has the ninth-highest in the country -- campers will pack all RV lots flanking the speedway with everything from pristine motor homes to dusty tents, oak-burning campfires to space heaters and T-bone steaks to Beanie Weanies.

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Michael A. Bell

Oct. 3, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- TALLADEGA -- Gas could be 10 bucks a gallon, but Jim Lewis of Iowa ain't missing the race.

"That's what we save for," the 60-year-old said, beaming like a school kid inside his RV, a 38-foot Adventurer equipped with satellite TV and a Sleep Number bed.

Lewis and wife Pam motored down 996 miles from Madrid, a small town near Des Moines, to lot H-9 at the Talladega RV Park. Wednesday, a Dale Earnhardt Jr. flag reigned over their campsite.

Round-trip fuel alone likely will eclipse $1,500. But that's a mere pittance when he factors in the raconteurs he'll stumble across, the Cajun cookin', the beer-induced roars thundering from the track.

"This," he said, absorbing the atmosphere, "is on a pedestal for us."

Despite a wheezing economy and staggering gas prices -- Alabama has the ninth-highest in the country -- campers will pack all RV lots flanking the speedway with everything from pristine motor homes to dusty tents, oak-burning campfires to space heaters and T-bone steaks to Beanie Weanies.

"Times are challenging right now," said Kristi King, a racetrack spokeswoman. "And we're excited that they chose Talladega Superspeedway to be their vacation or place to get away."

King declined to say how many tickets were sold, only that more than 100,000 people will pack the stands for Sunday's race.

"We are experiencing some softness in the ticket sales," she said.

But not a softness in spirit. Campers at the Talladega RV Park began trickling in Sunday, setting up camp on the iron ore-rich grounds on which cows once grazed.

"When you're race fans, you're race fans," said George Gildeis of London, Ontario, who said he trekked 1,400 kilometers -- about 900 miles -- to lot E-32, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart flags flapped.

Dorothy Harper, whose family owns the park, said the lots usually sell out right after the April race at Talladega. This year's quota, however, capped about three weeks ago.

"But knowing the economy as we know it, I am not surprised," she said. "People have lost their job, and money doesn't come as freely as it did."

Race fans also are overcoming more than a sputtering economy to make it to these dusty campgrounds.

Hurricane Gustav battered John Lutz's hometown of Amite, La., about six hours away.

"Now is a good time (to come) after the storm we had," said Lutz, who makes it to both races -- in the fall with his wife, in the spring with his chums.

Lutz pointed to rows of other motor homes and rattled off the hometowns of some of the campers. His wife, Valerie, can tell you who can cook the meanest gator tails. Come Saturday night, the lights, the eclectic foods, the music, are too much to miss.

"It's almost like an extended family," Lutz said.

Tough times or not, Hayden resident Chris Robinette won't ever cross Talladega off his vacation list.

"This is my sport," said Robinette, whose mustache and sunglasses would have made the late Dale Earnhardt proud.

Robinette then spit out some Copenhagen snuff and grinned, reminiscing about his first race here at age 6. Things aren't so bad after all.

"Economies come and go," said John Harper, who helps run the park. "But racing lasts forever."

About Michael A. Bell

Michael Bell covers education and health for The Star. He is a graduate of University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

Newstex ID: KRTB-0317-28527045


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