Atlanta Motor Speedway
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Real Racing… Real Fast
Atlanta Motor Speedway opened its doors in 1960 as Atlanta International Raceway (AIR). It came in during an era as famous for fights between the drivers and banging bumpers as it was for racing skill by the likes of Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty and Fireball Roberts, the winner of the first race ever at the track. Today those names adorn the various grandstands at what is now Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS).
The early years of AIR were financially lean, as the owners were racing enthusiasts, not businessmen. That all changed in 1990 when Speedway Motorsports purchased the facility. Speedway Motorsports operates some of NASCAR’s most successful tracks. They immediately began making the improvements necessary to bring Atlanta to the top echelon in stock car racing.
Today, Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) is a 125,000-seat success story, with an 850-acre campus. The infield area alone is more than 120 acres. It is known as one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks, as it is one of only two tracks that does not require restrictor plates on the cars. The record for average lap speed during qualifying is 197 mph by Geoff Bodine and during a race the top average lap speed record is 158 mph by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. It is for these reasons that AMS uses “Real Racing… Real Fast” as its slogan.
Food & Beverage 3
Ever hear of a professional sports facility that allows you to bring a cooler filled with food into the stands with you? Atlanta Motor Speedway allows coolers up to 14″ x 14″ x 14″ to enter the facility. The coolers must be soft-sided, and no glass bottles are allowed.
If you decide against bringing your own food, the folks at AMS are more than happy to keep you well fed. They have 20 track-owned concession stands located strategically around the track that carry foods that you would expect at any sports venue including hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, pretzels, popcorn and pizza. Coca-Cola brand beverages, bottled water and a wide variety of beers are also available at these stands. It is important to note that AMS brand stands operate on a CASH ONLY basis. Don’t worry… there are plenty of ATM’s on property.
In addition to the AMS owned food stands, there are plenty of stands managed by well-known national brands. These include Papa John’s Pizza, Sonny’s BBQ, Bojangles Chicken, Australian Bakery and Kona Ice. Any brands with a nationwide tie-in to NASCAR will also have locations throughout the facility.
Atlanta Motor Speedway is an electric place to watch a NASCAR race for the first, or the twentieth time. Its 1.5 mile oval is amongst the fastest of all the sport’s tracks. It features 24 degree turns and 5 degree straightaways. The track hosts three major races… the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (NASCAR Cup Series), the Rinnai 250 (Xfinity Series) and the Active Pest Control 200 (Camping World Truck Series) in the early spring. These are typically the second races of the calendar year after the Daytona 500.
The grandstands surrounding the track are both a history lesson about, and a salute to NASCAR’s past. The grandstands are named for some of the sport’s greatest stars… Earnhardt and Petty, while the concourses beneath the stands feature the history of AIR/AMS. (A nice touch has a checkered finish line running through the concourse at the precise location of the finish line on the track.)
Your immediate “neighborhood” for races at Atlanta Motor Speedway is its 850-acre campus. AMS will provide you with plenty of things to do and keep you occupied throughout the race weekend. One of the most popular spots in the neighborhood is the Fan Zone located just outside of Gate 13. This area is entertainment central as it functions as a concert venue, shopping mall and food court all rolled up into one. Vendors will be present from all of NASCAR’s major sponsors, driving simulators will give you an idea of what it feels like to drive at 150 mph, and there will be souvenir trucks filled with memorabilia featuring the team gear for almost all the top racing teams. In addition there is a Kid Zone with plenty of inflatables and costumed characters to keep your kids entertained. Bands will take the stage the morning of the race to get you energized for the afternoon activities.
Your dining, lodging and attraction options if you decide to stay off AMS property will be in the charming small towns of McDonough, Georgia or Locust Grove, Georgia. Any options you may choose in either of these towns is no more than 9-11 miles from Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The most direct route from any major interstate is via the Locust Grove exit # 212 off I-75.This exit links you with the Tanger Outlet Mall, as well as the Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary. This facility is especially popular with children and also serves as an animal rescue facility. Two restaurants at this exit that you might enjoy are Smashburger or Gabino’s Mexican Grill. There are several fast food options and lodging facilities at this exit as well.
In the South, there are two organized sports religions… college football and NASCAR. More than just enjoying the sport, NASCAR fans often identify with a specific driver or racing team. This may determine where they sit, what color outfits they wear and who they sit with. It really is no different from sports like basketball, baseball and hockey in that regard.
NASCAR and AMS do go much further in creating a personal experience between their fans and their heroes. Drivers in NASCAR are far more accessible than any other professional sport. They are happy to sign autographs at no charge. Fans are welcome to participate in a Q and A session with their favorite driver the day before a race. They can have their photos taken with a driver and their car very willingly. There is a unique relationship between NASCAR stars and their fans.
Like many other sports, providing special fan experiences plays a central part of a facility’s marketing plan. At AMS, fans can obtain pre-race pit passes that are good right up through the driver introductions on race day. The cost for children 12 and under is $50 and for adults the cost is $125. A second fan experience option is to rent a Scanner/FanVision package . This allows the fan to hear the communications between the driver and their pit crew during the race and if the driver’s car is outfitted with a camera they can see the race live from the driver’s perspective (not all drivers cars are outfitted with the cameras).
Atlanta Motor Speedway is located approximately 20 miles south of downtown Atlanta along US Highways 19 and 41. In the old days taking Highways 19 and 41 meant a very long day just getting just to and from the track. This was due to the traffic volume and the dozens of red lights along that route.
In 2005 that issue was greatly improved by the opening of GA Highway 20. This was a joint project of the Georgia DOT and AMS to provide the quickest route possible from an interstate (in this case I-75) to the track. It is a multilane thoroughfare with few red lights and direct access into the AMS parking lots. It is also designed to have all lanes reversable to make it possible for all lanes to head west prior to the race and east (towards the interstate) after the race.
From I-75: take exit #212 (Hampton- Locust Grove Road). Go west on Hampton-Locust Grove Road, which quickly becomes Georgia 20 West. Stay on Highway 20 West until you reach your specified parking area.
Once on the property you may feel that it is a long trek over to the track itself. Free trams continually circle the parking lots and will drop you at the gate your tickets specify.
For fans who prefer not to drive, AMS partners with Rally Ride, a rideshare transportation service that will pick up persons from a pre-designated spot and provide round trip service at a very reasonable price. They utilize busses which are outfitted with bathrooms. If the bus can pick up a minimum of 25 persons (you do not have to recruit the 25 yourself) at a specific location the cost can’t be beat. For example, from the northern suburbs of Atlanta to the track and back would be $35 roundtrip. This is nearly a 60 mile commute each way. To learn more about Rally Ride go to www.rallybus.net .
Return on Investment 4
It’s no secret that attendance at NASCAR events has dropped off in recent years. This is primarily due to the aging out of NASCAR’s original fan base, which was America’s Greatest Generation or Baby Boomers. NASCAR is working very hard to bring younger generations to the races by making the events as affordable as possible. Prices for children 12 and under are $10, student tickets for teens over 12 years old are $19-$29 depending on what row you are sitting in. Adult prices range from $49-$119 depending on your row location.
Here is the best news… you can bring in a small cooler with your own food for free. Parking other than for VIP areas or RV’s is free. The tram ride from your car to the track is free. Attending activities in the Fan or Kid Zones is free. What other sport offers so many free opportunities?
Weather has created some major news stories involving AMS over the years. It frequently serves as an evacuation point for persons seeking shelter from hurricanes that affect Florida. This was particularly true with Hurricane Irma, as thousands of Floridians spent more than a week at the facility. In 2005, the speedway was struck by an F-2 tornado, resulting in millions of dollars in damage. However, in both cases, the track was ready for racing by the next scheduled event.
Former President and Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter worked as a ticket taker at AIR back in the 1960’s. When he rose through his various elected positions, he did not forget his friends, as he hosted AIR staff reunions at both the Georgia Governor’s Mansion and the White House. Even in his 90’s, President Carter is a devoted NASCAR fan.
Veteran AMS fans urge those who are attending a race for the first time to bring the following items with them 1) Earphones/Ear Plugs are a necessity… stock car racing is extremely loud, 2) Sunscreen is also very important, as you will be sitting in a facility with little or no shade for many hours, 3) Comfortable shoes are important as AMS is a huge facility with lots of interesting things to check out, 4) A small set of binoculars can help you keep up with your favorite driver. The backstretch of the track is a long distance from the grandstands.
Atlanta Motor Speedway’s track had its first total repave in 20 years in 2018 following the spring races. This should result in even higher average speeds in the future.
The all-time leader for wins at AMS is Dale Earnhardt with eight checkered flags. Following closely behind are Cale Yarborough and Bill Elliott with seven wins each.
Atlanta Motor Speedway has been a part of the NASCAR world since 1960. Today it remains one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, as it is one of only two tracks that does not require the use of restrictor plates.
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