The 2012 AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway will feature drivers battling for Chase for the Sprint Cup positions, the anniversary of one of NASCAR’s greatest races and the celebration of a career of one of the sport’s most successful drivers.
The Labor Day weekend event will also mark AMS President Ed Clark’s 20 years at the famed 1.54-mile speedway. Clark recently reflected on some of his memories and thoughts of the past 20 years in a question-and-answer session:
What are your thoughts as you enter 20 years at AMS?
“Well first of all, it definitely doesn’t seem like 20 years. There’s been a lot of change, and a lot of great racing moments here. Photo finishes, a lot of intense drama and championships decided. Certainly my first race, which was Richard Petty’s last race and Jeff Gordon’s first and the drama around five guys racing for the championship, it was a big moment. But more than that, just the changes in the facility. What it was in 1990 when we (SMI) bought the track and in 1992 when I came here, and all the different phases of construction and everything we’ve done through the years, to build a facility now that not only has a great racing surface and provides great racing, but has fantastic amenities for the fans. I’ll remember how that was all done about as much as I do the great finishes we’ve had.”
What are some of the facility changes that you have overseen during your time here?
“We’ve done pretty much everything twice thanks to the tornado (in 2005). When Bruton Smith bought the facility in 1990, we had a plan called “Project 2000” which was an overall facility improvement program to pretty much rebuild and upgrade the facility, largely with fan amenities that we didn’t have. We immediately went to work adding seats, parking, camping, improving all the existing facilities, paving roads. That went on beyond the year 2000. In 1996, we opened the Tara Place Condos and in 1997 we changed the backstretch to the fronstretch, re-designed the track, added the double dogleg frontstretch, added the new grandstand on the fronstretch, built suites, and in two other phases have added in additional seats along the front straightaway.”
What racing moments stand out to you from your time here?
“Well obviously the 1992 Hooters 500, that’s probably first and foremost. The second one, I’ll recall our first Camping World Truck Series, and how competitive it was. In fact the first couple of Truck races we had, there were three to four guys coming off the fourth turn going for the win. Those were great. One that truly stands out is the 2001 event when Kevin Harvick won. I’ve been in this business over 30 years, and I’ve never heard the fans in the stands continue to cheer and express their emotion for that long once a winner had crossed the finish line. It literally went on for seven or eight minutes without dying down at all. I think it was several things, obviously a new winner, a great photo finish with Kevin just beating Jeff Gordon. But the biggest thing, it was just a rush, a release of emotion for all the fans. The fact that Dale Earnhardt drove that very car and won that race in a photo finish the year before, his last win here, and being three weeks after his death, it was just an emotional release for everybody.
The tornado, not so much the tornado itself, but how our team recovered from it, with about 400 people coming together to rebuild this place and do something that a lot of people, when they saw the extend of the damage said there was no way it could be done. Yet we finished weeks early before the race. That’s pretty neat.
And even most recently, Jeff Gordon’s win in last year’s AdvoCare 500 and his duel with Jimmie Johnson. The way the two of them battled, I think that race will be remembered for a long time.”
What has it been like to be a part of the community in Hampton and Henry County?
“It’s an obligation we have. Our community supports us in many ways, not just by buying tickets and attending our events, and we want to be good community stewards and repay that support. We have fans that come here from all 50 states and a number of different countries, and they come to Henry County, Georgia to enjoy this event. The fact that local businesses and restaurants and hotels open their arms and welcome our fans here, certainly means a lot. We can’t do it alone. We need their support to make these folks feel welcome. They support us, and we have an obligation to give back. We have always tried to be very active in the community, to help with needs in the community in any way we can. We rely on the community to help us and we enjoy being a part of the fabric of the community. It’s a great and growing area that we are involved in and we’ve had nothing but great support from everyone involved.”
NASCAR night racing returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend, Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 2012. Reserve your AdvoCare 500 ticket now. For more information, call the Atlanta Motor Speedway Ticket Office at (877) 9-AMS-TIX, (770) 946-4211 or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.