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Hood: Stripping Atlanta Of Date Was A Cold Move

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 6 2010

Richard Petty heads to the finish line during a Cup race in 1978 at what was then called Atlanta International Raceway. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

A longtime resident of North Georgia who has attended all but two Sprint Cup races held at Atlanta Motor Speedway since 1980, I think it’s safe to call the oval located in the tiny town of Hampton my home track.

After seeing a lot of seats go unoccupied for years during marquee events held at the 1.54-mile facility, Thursday’s announcement that AMS is losing its spring date wasn’t much of a shock.

But that didn’t prevent it from feeling like a punch to the gut.

Gone are the days of scraping the frost off the windshield of my car in the wee hours of Sunday mornings in early March before making the 90-minute trek to Hampton.

Gone are the days of checking the weather forecast before departing for the speedway in early March to determine if a parka or just two sweatshirts would suffice for the day.

Gone are the days of walking through the Cup garage at AMS early on race morning in early March only to see the doors of the garage stalls slammed shut as teams and their cars took refuge from the bitterly cold weather.

Pundits blame the fickle sports fans of Atlanta for the loss of the track’s early spring (actually late winter) NASCAR date.

But I’ll always be convinced that the unpredictable weather in Atlanta that time of year was the kiss of death for the spring race. I’m certain that bad weather dates contributed to the demise of the North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C.

And now word trickles in from the street that Kentucky Speedway, the beneficiary in the switch, will be awarded a warm-weather Cup date by NASCAR.

Geez.

I can only imagine the long line of cars packed with fans on Bruton Smith Parkway if Atlanta had been playing host to the Cup Series on a Saturday night in June.

A columnist based in Charlotte wrote Thursday afternoon that AMS’ parent company, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI), made the correct call to pull the race from Atlanta instead of its sister track in New Hampshire because NASCAR can’t risk alienating its fans in the Boston market.

What fan base?

When I passed through Boston earlier this summer on my way to Loudon, N.H. for the NASCAR weekend, the only sports chatter I heard or read about centered on the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots and Red Sox.

The lone mention of NASCAR focused on Danica Patrick’s run in that weekend’s Nationwide Series event.

Time will tell if NASCAR, at the urging of SMI, will pull one of the two Cup races in New Hampshire and ship it to Las Vegas.

But as for Thursday’s announcement, NASCAR and SMI should have considered moving the Sprint All-Star race from Charlotte to Kentucky instead of swiping a date from Atlanta.

Let’s face it: thousands of tickets to All-Star event are freebies and many more are deeply discounted. And Charlotte struggles to put butts in the seats for what should be one of NASCAR’s showcase weekends.

The All-Star race is now all about giving the drivers and teams a third race in their own backyard. It’s that simple.

Ironically, many competitors, most notably Dale Earnhardt Jr., consider Atlanta to be their favorite stop on the circuit.

But following the implementation of NASCAR’s new policy of secretly fining competitors who criticize the sport, drivers will be reluctant to rip NASCAR’s decision to pull a race from Atlanta when they face the media on Friday in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Instead, they’ll put on their corporate hat and call it another brilliant decision by NASCAR.

Truthfully, I’m not shedding any tears over Atlanta losing its spring date.

Life will go on.

I’m just glad I won’t have a legitimate reason to scrape ice off my windshield on Sunday mornings in early March.

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 6 2010
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