Elliott, Ragan, Sorenson and Logano seek home-field advantage at Atlanta
Sweeping both races at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1992, Bill Elliott relished his role as a fan favorite - a hometown hero winning in his backyard.
It was the second time he had swept both races in a single year at the track, with the first coming in 1985. Elliott, often referred to as 'Awesome Bill from Dawsonville,' was a local stock-car legend in these parts, and the fans adored him when he won at his home track.
"I definitely had a good fan following at that place. I mean, it was part of growing up there," said Elliott, whose six wins in Atlanta tie him for the third most at the track all time. "In 1992, I remember the first race and the only reason we won was gas mileage. In the second race, we just came back and we ran well."
But since that fall afternoon 16-years ago, no Georgia-born driver has stepped atop the podium post-race in Atlanta. Eager for a new hometown hero to emerge, the 16-year drought has left fans and track officials ready for another Georgian to take the trip to Victory Lane in Atlanta.
"In team sports, fans support teams from their area who create a home-field advantage - racing isn't too different," said Ed Clark, the president of Atlanta Motor Speedway who has been with the track since the year of Elliott's second sweep. "Our fans would love to see a homegrown talent claim a win in Atlanta. I'm sure the fan reaction would be tremendous and if a local driver had a lead in the final laps, the atmosphere would likely be electric."
Elliott, who will be recognized before the Oct. 26 Pep Boys Auto 500 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his 1988 Sprint Cup Championship, is one of four drivers either from Georgia or with noteworthy ties to the Peach State entering the upcoming race. The other three - David Ragan, Reed Sorenson and Joey Logano - all youthful at 22 years of age or younger, represent the next generation of Georgia drivers and the best shot for a local star to win at home
"You know, Atlanta has been our NASCAR connection for so many years," said Ragan when asked about his home track. "Growing up in the South, everyone looked forward to the Atlanta race, so its been very special to me growing up and being a race fan, but then also from a racing standpoint. To start my career there and have friends and family that are at the track and even work there, it's obviously an exciting weekend for us."
Ragan might have the best statistical shot to become Atlanta's next homegrown hero among the trio. Currently sitting 13th in the season standings, Ragan has claimed three top-10 finishes in as many weeks, including a third-place showing two weeks ago, and is currently running among NASCAR's leaders.
"We've always run really well there, but we've never really had a good finish though," said Ragan, who grew up in Unadilla and is 22-years old. "[Winning in Atlanta] would be great. I would probably want to stay down there for a few days and not go back to Charlotte. A lot of my friends and family would be there and that's what would make it so great."
Sorenson who, like Ragan, cut his teeth running Legends cars at Atlanta Motor Speedway, holds his local track in a special place.
"Obviously, being at home and everything, I think everybody enjoys running good at home," said the 21-year old who has three top-10 finishes in Atlanta. "It has been a good place for us. Last year, we had a good run there in October and finished third. That's obviously a track I want to win at."
In addition to Sorenson and Ragan, Logano considers Atlanta a home track despite being born in Connecticut. Just as Ragan and Sorenson did, Logano trained in Legends cars at Atlanta from the time he was age eight through 13. Now as an 18-year old phenom getting his start in the Sprint Cup Series, the kid known as 'Sliced Bread' is aiming to win in Atlanta.
"Winning in Atlanta would be awesome," said Logano, who recently became the youngest driver to ever win a Nationwide Series race. "You know, it seems like a home track to me even though I'm from Connecticut. It would be a really cool place to win at."
As cool as it would be for Logano, race fans in Atlanta would likely be equally enthused to see one of their own take the checkered flag. Since Elliott's wins in 1992, 31 Sprint Cup races have been run in Atlanta since a local driver took first, a streak this group of Georgians is eager to break.
"Atlanta is a tough mile-and-a-half track, so it proves a lot for your team," said Ragan. "It would be a great place to celebrate our first win."
Great seats are available for all Pep Boys Auto 500 race weekend events, October 24-26, including in the Elliott Grandstand where fans can purchase a $39 adult ticket. Call the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-877-AMS-TIX or 770-946-4211 and reserve your seat today.