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Minter: Pure Racing Was A Refreshing Change

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 3 2010

The scene at the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta is quite a bit different than those at NASCAR races. (Photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Flowery Branch, Ga. – The first sure signs that the 13th annual Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta was going to be a real happening came about four miles down Interstate 85 from the exit to the race track Saturday morning. That’s where the traffic slowed to anywhere from a crawl to 10 miles per hour at best.

It stayed that way for about eight miles, until the track was in sight. Further evidence came via a flashing sign that read: “Infield Parking Sold Out.”

Fans at that point were directed to park in the lot at Lanier National Speedway, a 3/8-mile NASCAR short track that once was able to lure the Busch Series away from Road Atlanta for a couple of years – and draw more fans. It’s unlikely that will ever happen again, even if NASCAR’s No. 2 circuit returned to the north Georgia track. Lanier’s crowds have dwindled greatly from their best days in the 1980s, while Road Atlanta appears to be doing quite well without a NASCAR connection.

At the registration trailer, cars were double parked on the red clay lot, and droves of fans were walking in from outlying parking spots that stretched as far up Highway 53 as one could see.

Inside the track, on the hill overlooking Turn 12 and the frontstretch, cars were parked door to door, with fans sitting on the grass or under tents to watch the race cars pass by below.

Although Petit was the final points race of the season and a part of the inaugural season of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, those doesn’t seem to be the reasons a record number of fans turned out on a cool, crisp, sunny fall day.

It’s more likely that fans simply wanted to see some pure racing – Audi vs. Peugeot, Porsche and Ferrari vs. Corvette, a hybrid Porsche utilizing mind-boggling electrical technology, exotic prototypes weaving in and out of slower GT cars, drivers and cars being put to a 10-hour or 1,000-mile test.

It’s something the powers that be in NASCAR should take a look at. While much of the attention all season long in NASCAR – and especially in the fall – is on the points standings and the Chase, fans don’t seem to be buying into the championship battle. TV ratings for Chase races are down, and last week’s race at Dover played out before a grandstand that didn’t appear to be much over half full.

The differences in the scenes at Road Atlanta and at last week’s NASCAR race at Dover bring home the point former promoter H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler often makes when he says: “I’ve never been able to sell tickets to a points race.”

And to be completely honest, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to be gained, in the big picture, by spending money on media facilities and such. It’s a far different scene in the Road Atlanta press room than a similar working area at a NASCAR race. For one thing, and not necessarily a bad one, there was no free food and soft drinks for the working stiffs, only lukewarm water and some Halloween candy.

The upside for the reporter types, other than the health aspect, is that if Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton were here, they’d have to find something other than the “eating the free food” lines to use on the the folks pecking away at their laptops.

The wireless internet service is awfully slow, in spite of a banner from the provider that reads, in big bold letters “Speed + Reliability.” At a NASCAR track, that would cause a near mutiny. Here, all one could do was hope that the signal will hold out long enough to file on a tight, nighttime deadline.

Out on the track, the scenes were familiar – Audi and Peugeot battling out front.

But before anyone ever saw a checkered flag, they had to run about the equivalent of two NASCAR races at Pocono, a distance that would put even the most avid stock car fan to sleep.

At Road Atlanta, no one seemed to mind.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 3 2010
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