- Associated Press - Sunday, May 5, 2013

TALLADEGA, ALA. (AP) - Chipper Jones can cross another item off his post-baseball bucket list.

The former Atlanta Braves slugger followed a visit to the Masters _ and his first turkey hunt _ with his first chance to attend a race at Talladega Superspeedway now that he doesn’t have the conflict of baseball season.

Jones _ who grew up going to races in Daytona, Fla., 20 minutes from his Pierson home _ got to serve as grand marshal at Sunday’s Aaron’s 499.

“If I wasn’t a baseball player I think I would have wanted to be a race car driver or a country singer or something like that,” Jones, who retired after last season, said before the race. “Not that I can sing, but I can dang sure drive.”

He said you could hear the revving engines at Daytona International Speedway from his backyard.

Jones is a fan of short tracks and big speedways. As a 12-year-old, he got to witness a historic moment when Richard Petty won his 200th and final race at the Firecracker 400 on July 4, 1984.

“I was in the house for Richard Petty’s 200th win,” Jones said. “Ronald Reagan flew in on Air Force One. Richard wasn’t my favorite. I was a Cale Yarborough fan. I loved Cale’s grit and determination. He’d fight you in a heartbeat on the backstretch if somebody wrecked him. That was always something that I liked. I always thought he had one of the prettiest cars.”

Another sports figure in the South, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, was given the chance to lead the racers for a pre-race lap driving the pace car at a creeping _ by `Dega standards _ 55 mph.

McCarron grew up visiting the local short track in Mobile, where his grandfather used to race and his father, Tony, and uncle, Rusty, served on the pit crew.

McCarron, who has helped the Crimson Tide win the past two national championships, got to one-up Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Saban was grand marshal at the 2009 spring race _ and a mere passenger in the pace car.

“I told him, he’s one of the most important guys in the state of Alabama and he had to ride in the passenger seat,” McCarron said. “I said, `So what does that say about me, Coach? I’m driving.’

“He told me, `Whatever you do, don’t wreck it.’”

McCarron said many of his family members are big NASCAR fans. He started out following his father’s favorite driver, Bill Elliott. Now he pulls for Elliott’s successor, Kasey Kahne.

“The cool part about it is I think Kasey drives the same way as him, stays high a lot of times and rides along the wall,” McCarron said. “I felt like he was always different. My dad rooted for him most of the time, so I guess I took after my dad a little. Then I like McDonald’s and he drove a McDonald’s car.”