Talladega Ride

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 7, 2003

Thousands of race fans descended (or in the minds of NASCAR fans, ascended) on Talladega Sunday for the running of the Aaron's 499.

Many cheered as Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race at the Speedway, but a few from Troy had a better time than most.

Jim Jackson and Cavin Hill, who work at Bill Jackson Chevrolet in Troy, were selected to drive new models of Chevrolet extended cabs before Sunday's race. All 43 drivers in the race rode in the 43 trucks, and Jackson and Hill received lucky draws.

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Jackson escorted Earnhardt Jr. and Hill escorted Jeff Gordon. Since the two most popular drivers were selected for their trucks, Fox Sports put TV crews in the back of the trucks as well.

"We had a nice time," Jackson said.

Mike Mabray rode in the truck with Hill, but all three men's sons road with Jackson in the Earnhardt truck. Houston Mabry, Trace Jackson and Cody Hill spent the lap with Jackson and Earnhardt.

"They were cheering when we came around, but when my dad drove around, they were booing and saying cuss words and everything," Cody said.

Cody expressed doubt as to whether anyone really liked Gordon as a racer.

" I guess I like him a little bit, but I really like this guy," Cody said as he pointed to Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 car on a racing cap.

Cody and Trace said they had a little more favor for a new driver.

"I like Dale Earnhardt Jr. now," Trace said.

Despite the number of derogatory cheers the crowd threw upon Gordon, Hill said there was an equal amount of cheering.

"You had one side cheering him and the other side booing him," Hill said. "Of course, you're going to have that with anybody who is as successful as he has been."

Hill said Gordon was friendly, personal and professional, but Gordon did reprimand Hill for his driving once. As Cavin was driving, he started to listen to the crowd's cheering and jeering and forgot to drive. He took the truck nearly off the road and the TV crew and driver in the bed took notice.

"(Gordon) knocked on the top of the cab and said, 'Stay on the road,'" Hill said. "That thing is three-wide and I couldn't stay on it."

Jackson and Hill said their respective drivers were very easy to be around during the event.

"He stuck his head in the truck after it was over and talked to us," Jackson said. "He would have signed an autograph, but no one had a pen."