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Minter: Hope Sprung A Leak At Atlanta Cup Track

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 6 2011

A promising Labor Day weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway took a beating from a dying tropical storm. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

HAMPTON, Ga. – If the story of the 2011 Labor Day weekend races at Atlanta Motor Speedway was a fishing tale, it would be about the big one that got away.

Down to just one Sprint Cup race a year for the first time since the track opened in 1960, speedway officials pulled out all the stops to pack the place. Lynyrd Skynyrd was booked for a pre-race concert. Series sponsor Sprint came through with a bonus program that could pay out three million if one of four drivers wins the race. Young Brad Keselowski got hot, igniting new interest in the sport. The Chase field remains an unknown. And the community, despite its disappointment over losing a race date, rallied around the Labor Day event.

Just days before the race, AMS president Ed Clark was almost giddy about the pace of ticket sales. An occasional call to the speedway’s executive offices would be fielded by Clark himself, answering: “Ice House, Frosty speaking.”

But all those positive signs soon disappeared with the impending arrival of the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.

By Sunday morning, with the forecast calling for rain through Tuesday, campers were lined up heading out of the speedway. The sad procession continued through the day on Monday. By Tuesday morning, there were few signs on the roadways around the track that a Sprint Cup race was about to be run.

It’s a tale all too familiar to the home folks. Rain has always been the track’s greatest foe. Back in the early days, eight of the first 10 races were affected by rain, leading to the nickname Atlanta International Rainway for the track then known as Atlanta International Raceway.

Those weather challenges eventually caused the track to fall under bankruptcy protection.

Stacey Cotton, the bankruptcy trustee credited with reviving the track, has often said that the reason the track’s fortunes improved was simple – it didn’t rain on the races during his time making the big decisions.

The track’s not in the dire straits it was back in the 1970s, but a rain-out this time can’t be good. Down to just one main chance a year to make healthy deposits to the bank account, one has to wonder what the fallout will be this time.

Will the track be able to maintain its current staffing levels? Will improvements to the facility be put on hold?

And what about the morale of a staff that worked so hard to bounce back after losing one of its race dates and now finds itself dealing with disappointed race fans, some of whom are angrily demanding the return of their ticket money?

Legend from the early years has it that some of the people helping build the speedway questioned the demolition of an old church building on the property, saying the Man upstairs might be offended.

One has to wonder whether those old workers were on to something.

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

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 6 2011
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