TALLADEGA, Ala. - Here's some advice for the thousands of NASCAR fans driving to rural Alabama this weekend: Don't wait until the last minute to fill up.
Fuel shortages haven't been as bad in Alabama as some Southeastern states, but supplies are still spotty and there's only a handful of gas stations near the Talladega Superspeedway, site of this weekend's races.
A spokesman for AAA Alabama, Clay Ingram, said there shouldn't be any "major problems" finding gas around the track, which is located on Interstate 20 about 40 miles east of Birmingham and 95 miles west of Atlanta.
"But at the same time, it wouldn't be a bad idea for people to gas up before they get into the area," he said. "When you get 200,000 to 250,000 people coming into a small area like that, you don't know what's going to happen."
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The track will play host to the ARCA RE/MAX 250 on Friday, the Mountain Dew 250 truck race on Saturday and the AMP Energy 500 on Sunday.
Many NASCAR fans drive hundreds of miles to get to the races, and superspeedway spokeswoman Kristi King said track officials are confident that fans will be able to find enough gas.
Suppliers have assured track executives that shortages caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike are improving daily. Race fans don't all show up at once, she said, and that lessens the strain on the local gas supply.
"There is gas out there," King said. "It may not be at the first place you stop to find it."
Oil distributors selling gas around Talladega say an area petroleum terminal that supplies fuel to gas stations at Wal-Mart stores may be part of the reason that some pumps at competing stations are dry.
Paul Wells, the vice president for retail operations at Arkansas-based Murphy Oil Corp., which owns the terminal, said the company provides fuel to Murphy USA gas stations outside Wal-Mart stores before it sells gasoline to other, competing service stations.
"We're making sure our other Murphy USA stations have product and that's just logical," Wells said. "It's nice to be able to help out a competitor when you can, but at the end of the day we have to make sure our own sites have gasoline first."
Gary Harris, vice president and general manager of Green Oil Co. in Oxford, said trucks hauling to Murphy stations are coming to the Alabama terminal from as far as Savannah, Ga., and South Carolina to pick up fuel.
"The way I feel, the gas should have stayed in our radius," Harris said. "That's the reason the terminal was put here."
Earlier this week, Talladega general manager Rick Humphries told The Charlotte Observer that officials in Alabama expected a "sufficient supply" for this weekend in spite of reports of shortages in areas east of the track, including the Oxford-Anniston are as well as Atlanta.
"The folks we have been in contact with tell us things are getting better daily," Humphries said.
"The more challenged areas appear to be east of the track; things appear to be better west of us toward Birmingham."
Humphries said one advantage Talladega has is that a large portion of its fans come in over the week leading up to Sunday's Amp Energy 500 and camp near the track. "So they don't all come in at once," he said. "There's more of a gradual build-up than at some other tracks."
As for the upcoming Charlotte races, Scott Cooper, vice president of communications for Lowe's Motor Speedway, said officials remain confident that the situation will improve before next weekend's Bank of America 500 and preliminary events.
"Our government officials have assured us this situation is temporary and that tankers and pipelines are focused on North Carolina," Cooper said. "Last week we had fans drive six hours to watch testing. We've already got campers from Wisconsin on property who are ready for the Bank of America 500.
"People are still passionate about NASCAR."