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By Any Name, Atlanta Motor Speedway Is A Gem

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 2 2012

Atlanta Motor Speedway may be mis-named, but it sure produces great racing. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Cleary)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

HAMPTON, Ga. – A colleague, Monte Dutton, wrote this week about how Atlanta Motor Speedway, despite its name, isn’t really an Atlanta track.

He’s right. It’s in Hampton, a small southern suburb and a location that many question given the larger population centers on the north side of Atlanta.

But back when the speedway was being built, in the late 1950s, it appeared to be in the perfect spot. The highway out front, U.S. 19/41 was the area’s major thoroughfare. That was before the interstate system was completed.

And the track’s founders believed that the small towns on the southside were home to the kind of working class folks that were attracted to NASCAR.

On that subject, they were probably right. And it doesn’t seem like the city folks around Atlanta really ever embraced the track or NASCAR.

On one local TV station this week, a list of weekend events found the AdvoCare 500 weekend next to the bottom, behind college football games and other events.

And there are no “local” drivers making waves on the circuit to boost ticket sales. The only two Georgians in the

Jeff Gordon's crew rolls out his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy for practice for today's AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

today’s race, David Ragan and Reed Sorenson, are driving cars not really capable of contending for victory.

Then there’s the sting that the loyal locals still feel from the loss of the track’s spring Sprint Cup event as well as losing the NASCAR Hall of Fame to Charlotte.

On top of that, track president Ed Clark and his ticket sellers are having to deal with the blahs that come from early week rains, the lingering effects of a washout from last year, and a one-week 20-cent spike in the price of gasoline.

The reconfiguration of the track from its original true-oval layout to a quad-oval design occurred in 1997 but is still being questioned by old-timers inside and outside the garage who hold fond memories of races on the old layout.

But the new design, coupled with an asphalt surface that hasn’t been touched since ’97, is credited with producing some of NASCAR’s best racing.

Driver after driver said as much in interviews this week.

“We could not be at a better race track,” said Carl Edwards, who badly needs another AMS win to get in line for a Chase berth. “This track is as good as it gets. Driving practice out there was a blast. I love this place for a number of reasons.”

Matt Kenseth also had kind words for the track after posting the fastest speed in Happy Hour.

“The track definitely has not gained any grip since we’ve been here last,” he said. “It’s definitely a handful, which is fun.”

The real “handful” is being managed by the ticket sellers. Here’s hoping they successfully negotiate the slippery surface they often find themselves on.

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

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 2 2012
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