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Ivey speaks at announcement of Talladega Superspeedway Infield Transformation Project

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) was in Talladega at the Motor Sports Hall of Fame to announce that the Talladega Superspeedway is going to spend $50 million to transform the infield at the iconic NASCAR track. The Talladega Speedway Corporation is promising that the changes will transform the infield and will offer a new, modern, one-of-a-kind experience that will enhance their current fans’ visit to this historic track and be more than ever a showcase tourist destination for new fans and entertainment seekers in the future.

“Alabama has been proud to be the home of the biggest and baddest race track in NASCAR,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “Both the track and this facility is world class and world renowned. In 2017 Talladega has a $437 million economic impact supporting over 8000 jobs.”

“Almost 50 years ago, Alabama became home to the Talladega Superspeedway,” Gov. Ivey said. “Today, I am thrilled to kick off the development of the Talladega Transformation Infield Project. This project will take this track into the next 50 years and give its loyal fans an even better experience.”

“26 million visitors came to Alabama last year and many of them were drawn by Talladega and the Motor Sports Hall of Fame,” Ivey said. “I am proud to lead a state that has this much to offer visitors.”

Alabama will celebrate its bicentennial as a state in 1969. The Talladega Super Speedway will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019 too. The new infield transformation will be complete by the time of the October race that year.

The Super Speedway’s management team says that the new interactive Garage Fan Zone Experience: will allow grandstand ticket holders and infield guests who purchase the Garage Fan Zone Experience admission close access to the teams, cars and inspection stations during race preparation via fan viewing walkways in the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Garage; A new, modern 35,000-square-foot open air club (covered) with a 41-foot video board, 740-square-foot bar and views into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Garage; Wi-Fi in all areas of the Garage Fan Zone; Social and engagement areas with concessions/souvenirs/restroom facilities, along with a guest services center and first aid station; New opportunities for driver/personality appearances and entertainment programming; New tram routes to deliver fans to the Garage Fan Zone; New garage suites with views into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Garage stalls; 44 stalls in the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Garage; A new Paddock Club to enhance the experience for fans and corporate guests; And a new Gatorade Victory Lane with up-close fan view as part of the Garage Fan Zone Experience.

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The transformation will have new expanded, premium RV camping and amenities: Approximately 300 total new spots near the Alabama Gang Superstretch and front stretch by the start-finish line; The new spaces will all be equipped with power and water hookups; and new infield mobile shower options in Turns 1 and 2. There will also be a new Turn 3 infield vehicle tunnel that will be large enough for convenient RV, tram and team hauler access and will be open 24 hours a day beginning Wednesday of race week. The track will also build: new infield road infrastructure, premium parking and utilities; A new NASCAR race operations building and broadcast booths high above the tri-oval; And renovation of drivers meeting area and expansion/upgrades to the current media center.

Economic Developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Since 1969, Talladega Superspeedway has been a part of Alabama societal and cultural history. The superspeedway generates an economic impact of approximately $400+ million per year for our state, and the venue boosts Alabama tourism and is part of the quality of life that locals expect,” Nicole Jones added, “The infield amenities aimed to enhance the fan experience will open in 2019, just in time for the Alabama Bicentennial and 50 years of Talladega Superspeedway.”

Childress is the all time winningest car owner in Talladega Super Speedway history.

“A lot of times when I speak, I say: Only in American. Only in America can a kid with $20 race car and a dream be here today,” Richard Childress said. “I raced here in 1969. Big Bill France gave me $400 to race in the Grand American. The Professional Drivers pulled out, so France gave us another $1000 to come race at Talladega. I towed my car here on the back of a big 1953 flatbed truck. I had to keep adding water because my car was losing fluids all day. When I left here, I had that $400 plus that $1000 in my pocket plus some winnings that I made that day. Afterwards Bill sent me a letter and said if you ever need anything from him and NASCAR show that letter. I still have that letter today. For RCR this will be our 50th anniversary as well.”

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“The Talladega Superspeedway is where my career began and it holds a special place in my heart,” Childress said,

“Talladega creates millions of dollars in tax revenue from the thousands that attend events and the track provides employment for hundreds of Alabamians.” State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) said. “We are fortunate to have them in Alabama.”

Mike Helton is the Vice Chairman of NASCAR and was President of the Talladega Superspeedway from 1988 to 1993.  The Talladega Speedway Company is owned by the International Speedway Corporation (ISC).

“When it comes to Talladega I love coming back to Talladega,” Helton said. “It is just not because of the race track, but also the people some of the best friends I have ever had in my life

“What a great step by the ISC and the France family,” Helton said. “It not only helps this facility it helps our entire industry and is reflective of ISC’s commitment to deliver a NASCAR project in a modern consumers way.”

When asked by reporters about debating Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox (D), Gov. Kay Ivey told reporters that: “The only ones who want to see a debate are the media and my opponent.”

Birmingham based HOAR construction is the primary contractor on the project. The project’s architectural and engineering work is being done by the employee-owned DLR Group based in Omaha, Nebraska.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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USDA is seeking rural energy grant applications

The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand on Wednesday invited applications for loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy systems, and to make energy efficiency improvements, conduct energy audits and provide development assistance.

The funding is being provided through the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which was created under the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized under the 2018 Farm Bill. This notice seeks applications for Fiscal Year 2021 funding.

The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.

REAP helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy costs and consumption by purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements in their operations.

Eligible systems may derive energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, ocean, hydrogen, geothermal or renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters).

USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to help improve life in rural America.

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Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments.

Key strategies include achieving e-Connectivity for rural America, developing the rural economy, harnessing technological innovation, supporting a rural workforce and improving quality of life. For additional information, see the notice in the Federal Register.

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Trump says that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin within two weeks

Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

President Donald Trump said Thursday that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin as early as next week.

“The whole world is suffering, and we are rounding the curve,” Trump said. “And the vaccines are being delivered next week or the week after.”

Trump made the announcement during a special Thanksgiving holiday message to U.S. troops overseas via teleconference. Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients. He also argued that his election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, should not be given credit for the vaccines, which were developed during the Trump administration.

Trump referred to the vaccines, which were developed and tested in less than ten months as a “medical miracle.”

Regulators at the FDA will review Pfizer’s request for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine developed with BioNTech during a meeting on Dec. 10. The director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research says a decision is expected within weeks, possibly days after that key meeting.

The latest trial data for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine showed that it was 90 percent effective.

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The CDC plans to vote next week on where the distribution of approved vaccines will begin and who will be allowed to get the first vaccines when they become available.

Dr. Celene Gounder, a member of Biden’s COVID Advisory Board, warned against rushing a vaccine to market.

“The single biggest risk of rushing an approval would be Americans’ distrust the vaccine,” Grounder said. “It’s essential people feel confident this is a safe and effective vaccine.”

Moderna said that its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

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AstraZeneca says its preliminary results showed its vaccine ranged from 62 percent to 90 percent effective depending on the dosage amount given to participants. AstraZeneca is having to launch a second round of global trials to clear up the discrepancies.

Many Americans appear to have ignored CDC warnings to scale back Thanksgiving holiday plans. More than six million Americans flew over the holiday week, raising fears by public health officials that the surge in coronavirus cases we are experiencing now will be followed by a bigger surge in the next three weeks.

As of press time, there have been 62 million diagnosed cases of coronavirus cases in the world, including nearly 13.5 million in the United States, but many cases are mild and go undiagnosed.

A CDC researcher estimates that the real number of infections in the U.S. has topped 53 million since February. More than 1.4 million people have died around the world since the virus first appeared in China late last year. The death toll includes 271,029 Americans and 3,572 Alabamians.

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The Iron Bowl is Saturday

Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Brandon Moseley

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The 2019 Iron Bowl (VIA ALABAMA FOOTBALL/UNIV. OF ALABAMA ATHLETICS)

The Auburn University college football team will play the University of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday with the game kicking off at 2:30 p.m. Attendance is strictly limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. The game will be televised on CBS stations.

Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will coach the Crimson Tide in Saban’s absence. He has a 46-35 record as a head coach at USC and Washington.

Auburn will be coached by Gus Malzahn, who has a 67-33 record as a head coach. He is the fifth winningest coach in Auburn history, trailing only Shug Jordan, Mike Donahue, Pat Dye and now-Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville.

Alabama has a 7-0 record and is currently the No. 1 team in the country in the college football rankings. Auburn is 5-2 but with a win could still win the SEC West with wins in its remaining two games, and if Alabama were to lose another game down the stretch. Alabama is just one game ahead of Texas A&M for first place in the SEC West, but the Tide has the tiebreaker by virtue of having defeated the Aggies in head-to-head competition.

In addition to team honors, there is a lot riding for individual players in today’s game. Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for 2,426 yards and 18 touchdowns in Alabama’s first seven games. Jones’s strong performance has made him a Heisman contender and has earned him consideration as a possible first-round or high second-round draft pick by the NFL if he were to leave Alabama early.

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has thrown for 1,627 yards and ten touchdowns over seven games.

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Alabama and Auburn played their first football game against each other in Lakeview Park in Birmingham on Feb. 22, 1893. The game is called the Iron Bowl because historically the game was played on a neutral site: Birmingham’s historic Legion Field. Birmingham at the time was best known for the iron that was mined there and then made into steel and other metal products.

The game is now played as a home and home series, but the Iron Bowl name has stuck with the rivalry.

Alabama leads the series with 46 wins to Auburn’s 37. There has been one tie. Auburn defeated Alabama 48 to 45 in last year’s high scoring contest.

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Health

Vaccines should protect against mutated strains of coronavirus

Public health experts say it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trials, and one has already applied for emergency use authorization, but how good will those vaccines be against a mutating coronavirus? A UAB doctor says they’ll do just fine. 

Dr. Rachael Lee, UAB’s hospital epidemiologist, told reporters earlier this week that there have been small genetic mutations in COVID-19. What researchers are seeing in the virus here is slightly different than what’s seen in the virus in China, she said. 

“But luckily the way that these vaccines have been created, specifically the mRNA vaccines, is an area that is the same for all of these viruses,” Lee said, referring to the new type of vaccine known as mRNA, which uses genetic material, rather than a weakened or inactive germ, to trigger an immune response. 

The U.S. Food And Drug Administration is to review the drug company Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10. Pfizer’s vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, as is a vaccine produced by the drug maker Moderna, which is expected to also soon apply for emergency use approval. 

“I think that is incredibly good news, that even though we may see some slight mutations,  we should have a vaccine that should cover all of those different mutations,” Lee said. 

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found in a recent study, published in the journal Science, that COVID-19 has mutated in ways that make it spread much more easily, but the mutation may also make it more susceptible to vaccines. 

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In a separate study, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that while most vaccines were modeled after an earlier strain of COVID-19, they found no evidence that the vaccines wouldn’t provide the same immunity response for the new, more dominant strain. 

“This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr. Larry Marshall, according to Science Daily

While it may not be long before vaccines begin to be shipped to states, public health experts warn it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public. Scarce supplies at first will be allocated for those at greatest risk, including health care workers who are regularly exposed to coronavirus patients, and the elderly and ill. 

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR last week, urged the public to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing for many more months, as the department works to make the vaccines more widely available.

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“Just because the first shots are rolling out doesn’t mean it’s time to stop doing everything we’ve been trying to get people to do for months. It’s not going to be widely available for a little while,” Harris said.

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