As Atlanta Motor Speedway celebrates it's 50th Anniversary season, many moments from the track's past have come to define the Speedway as one of the most storied in NASCAR's history.
Two such Atlanta Motor Speedway moments include Atlanta's first-scheduled NASCAR night race and O. Bruton Smith purchasing the then Atlanta International Raceway.
No. 6: Bruton Buys Atlanta Raceway to Add to Stable of SMI Tracks
Atlanta had always been known for hosting great NASCAR racing, but the Speedway south of Atlanta was far from the racing paradise known today when first purchased by O. Bruton Smith in 1990.
Bruton Smith purchased Atlanta International Raceway on Oct. 23, 1990 and renamed the facility Atlanta Motor Speedway. Armed with a vision for the future, Smith immediately commissioned Project 2000, a long-term renovation development aimed to make Atlanta the most-fan friendly racing facility in the world.
Within his first year of ownership, Smith added the Turn 3 Elliott Grandstand and increased the track's seating capacity by 25,000. Perched above the Turn 3 grandstand, 30 suites rimmed the massive seating structure and redefined "luxury" at the Speedway.
Ed Clark began overseeing Smith's project when he was named Atlanta Motor Speedway general manager in 1992. In the immediate years, renovations at the Speedway would include the erection of the nine-story Tara Place condo building, the adjacent Tara Clubhouse building and the construction of the Earnhardt Grandstand.
"Bruton's dedication to making Atlanta one of the nation's premier sporting facilities was nothing short of remarkable. He acquired a basic track and, in just a few short years, completely transformed Atlanta," explained Clark, now Atlanta Motor Speedway president and general manager. "If you look at today's Atlanta Motor Speedway, it's almost difficult to imagine how much Bruton changed – the track layout, the construction of the condo building, the creation of Georgia State Route 20 – it's impossible to consider what Atlanta would be like today without Bruton's influence."
Smith had Atlanta's track layout completely redesigned in 1997. The track's frontstretch and backstretch were swapped, as the then Weaver Grandstand becoming the backstretch grandstand and the newer Earnhardt Grandstand now faced front. In an effort to standardize Atlanta with Smith's other Speedway Motorsports, Inc. facilities, the track's previous oval layout was tossed aside in favor of a quad-oval design that would add two doglegs to the track's frontstretch.
And when completed, the redesign was a success: The first race in Atlanta following the redesign, the 1997 ARCA Reese's 400, featured a three-car wide photo finish, and was won by Georgia-native Harris DeVane.
In all at Atlanta, Smith would add grandstands, new media facilities, garages and an increased menu of entertainment that has featured NASCAR racing, International Race of Champions (IROC) and Indy Car events, concerts, car shows and more.
"Bruton told me before he ever bought the track, 'I'd like to see what could be done with this place,'" said Frances Goss, the longtime Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket manager who retired in 2003 after 38 years with the raceway. "He's made it. I never would have believed Atlanta Motor Speedway would look like it does today."
No. 5: Night Racing Finally Comes to Atlanta
After years of fans clamoring for night racing in Georgia, NASCAR night racing finally came to Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2009.
The 2009 Pep Boys Auto 500 on Labor Day weekend marked Atlanta Motor Speedway's inaugural NASCAR night racing weekend. Fans showed their support, descending upon the Speedway en mass to immediately make the Labor Day weekend festivities a marquee event on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.
Locked into a fall race date for years, Atlanta Motor Speedway coordinated a scheduling coup unmatched in recent history when the track completed a three-date swap to exchange an October race date for a night race on Labor Day weekend. In an event well received by fans, drivers and NASCAR legends, Kasey Kahne took the checkered flag in what might be the start of a new NASCAR tradition.
"It felt awesome to win at Atlanta, especially at that point in the season where everything was coming together for the Chase," Kasey Kahne recalled. "It was great to see the crowd that turned out at Atlanta for that race. Since I've been racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, I haven't seen a crowd like that, especially one that excited."
Having seen the excitement surrounding the 2009 event, five-time Atlanta winner and 1983 NASCAR champion Bobby Allison sees the potential for the Labor Day race in Atlanta to become one of NASCAR's top events.
"Having a Sprint Cup event at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day will, over time, create its own storied past just like we've seen at Darlington all those years," said the NASCAR legend. "There's an incredible amount of great drivers who have enjoyed great wins at both of those tracks. I honestly enjoyed racing on and winning on both tracks, even though each of them went through changes to track surface and layout at times during the past 50 years. But racing on Labor Day has always been a tradition in NASCAR and fans have always and continue to turn out to support NASCAR. That tradition will now continue at Atlanta."
The new Labor Day NASCAR night racing tradition continues during the Emory Healthcare 500 race weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Sept. 3-5.