As the Atlanta Motor Speedway pavement has worn and aged, many drivers in the garage have described racing at AMS as driving on a big dirt track. With tire falloff being so pronounced, racers must handle a car that slides around and has little grip.
When looking at the drivers who have historically been successful on the 1.54-mile speedway, it is no surprise that many come from dirt track roots and can handle a loose race car.
The late Dale Earnhardt is the all-time wins leader at the speedway, taking nine checkered flags during his career. All but one of those wins came before the 1997 reconfiguration of the speedway, but teams who have raced on both layouts say that the ability to handle a sliding car was a must on both surfaces. Earnhardt famously rode the high line to his last win at AMS, a photo finish with Bobby Labonte in 2000.
Dawsonville-native Bill Elliott holds six wins at his home track, and cut his teeth on the dirt of North Georgia early in his career. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon has brought home four Atlanta trophies in his illustrious career, and is another driver whose career was started on the dirt of the Midwest.
Midwestern dirt is a common denominator for several drivers, many of whom have had success at Atlanta. Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart all come to mind when thinking of drivers that have had dirt success in the heartland of America.
Newman has a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win to his credit at AMS. He is also tied for the most poles in Sprint Cup competition with seven, clearly showing he knows how to get around Atlanta's slick banking. Edwards has three Sprint Cup wins and one Nationwide win to his credit at AMS. Kahne is a two-time AMS winner and Stewart has claimed three checkered flags at AMS, including last year's Labor Day weekend event.
Lynyrd Skynyrd Appearance Added to Coca-Cola Fan Stage
Prior to taking the stage for the Fast Cars and Guitars concert, Southern Rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd will visit the Coca-Cola Fan Stage located in the fan zone outside the speedway. Members of the band will participate in a question-and-answer session with fans at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 4.
The Fast Cars and Guitars concert takes place just prior to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver introductions, and begins at 5:00 p.m.
The Coca-Cola Fan Stage features a dynamic line-up of entertainment throughout the race weekend. The featured entertainment includes NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver question-and-answer sessions on Friday, a Battle of the Bands competition on Saturday and local band Cartel will finish things off on Sunday. New acts are being added daily, and fans are encouraged to visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com for more information.
Track Qualifying Record Holder Geoffrey Bodine Returns to AMS
Making his return to the Sprint Cup circuit this weekend will be Geoffrey Bodine, the track qualifying record holder. Bodine recorded his time, a one-lap speed of 197.478 mph (28.074 seconds) on Nov. 15, 1997 following the AMS reconfiguration.
Bodine will be piloting a Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing, and looks forward to his return to AMS.
"I love Atlanta," says Bodine. "I ran last year in the truck race and qualified eighth, and had a good run going until the rear gear broke. It gave me a taste of Atlanta and got me hungry. I'm glad to be coming back."
Bodine's record speed at AMS is something that he still looks back on in amazement.
"I was trying to run around there wide open," says Bodine, about his record lap from 1997. "And we did. I put a speed down that won't be broken for quite a while, if ever. That was crazy. My fellow racers said 'What were you thinking? That's insane.' It really was. It was a thrill to hang on, don't breathe, and hold my breath for a lap. I could feel the tires wanting to let go through the corners. It turned out great. I didn't hit anything."
While the speeds have dropped off with the weathering of the surface, Bodine notes that the speed is still one of Atlanta's main attractions.
"It doesn't matter how fast you go at Atlanta, when you watch the cars go around, it's a fast track," says Bodine. "It doesn't matter if you go 191 or 197, it's fast and exciting. The racing is better than it's ever been because the track has worn down a bit. There's many different grooves, and you can start the race low, then move to the middle and then up high. It makes it a fun track for drivers. You have a choice of where you can run, and you can run where your car likes to go. It makes it exciting for the fans, with the passing and side-by-side racing."
Considering he is the fastest man to ever take a lap around the 1.54-mile speedway, Bodine knows what it takes to tackle the venerable speedway.
"You look for comfort, where you can drive the 20th lap as good as the first, and that's hard to get," says Bodine. "The team that does the best job of that will be out front. When you make a lap at Atlanta, the first lap is your best lap and your most comfortable. After that, it's all downhill. The grip goes away, the car slides around, and the driver has to earn his pay. It makes it hard. It's difficult to run Atlanta because the grip goes away so quickly. And you still have to try to go fast, and the driver is steering and trying to get the most out of the car that you can each lap. That's the challenge, and that's what racing is all about.
"That's the challenge, and that's what racing is all about. If it was easy to go around the track, everyone could do it and it wouldn't be a big deal. Atlanta is a good example of how tough NASCAR is. After that first lap, it's a lot of work for the driver to get around Atlanta."
NASCAR night racing returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway this Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-4. Tickets for the AdvoCare 500 start at $39 and $19 for students. Children 12 and under admitted free for the Great Clips 300 and the Atlanta 200 with an adult ticket. For more information, call the Atlanta Motor Speedway Ticket Office at (877) 9-AMS-TIX, (770) 946-4211 or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.