Safety training provides some of the most vital prep for NASCAR weekend
AMS NASCAR Safety Training
Four firefighters sit patiently inside a pickup truck just inside the interior wall of Atlanta Motor Speedway's NASCAR oval. Suddenly, a radio crackles to life:
"Turn 3 Fire there's a car on fire on pit road. I need you to respond."
The truck sets off and the firefighters ready themselves for what awaits. When it stops, they quickly jump out and douse flames rising from the carcass of a racecar who's prime has long passed.
The whole exercise was just a test, but it represents a very real possibility during race weekend. Drills like this prepare responders to act quickly and decisively if and when the time comes.
"Safety is the biggest thing. That's the most important thing out here is what we do," said AMS Track Training Coordinator Danny Stewart.
"We have to practice," added Assistant Track Training Coordinator Mark Henley. "That way when the race gets here in March we're ready to go."
About 200 people serve clean up, EMS, and firefighting roles inside Atlanta Motor Speedway's 1.54-mile oval. Well before being stationed inside the track, each one goes through training to get familiar with the task at hand, such as responding to and cleaning up an accident, removing an injured driver from a car, or putting out a fire on pit road.
"There's a whole bunch of scenarios that we build in and with a new employee we try to introduce them to all of it and then assign them to their specialty area," said Henley. "That way they're familiar with everything going on."
"There's a lot of people that have no clue what we do out here," said Stewart. "Once they come out here and learn and go through our program it's hard to get them to leave us because it's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work."
One of the new recruits out to learning the ropes this year is Robert Bennett, a firefighter from McDonough getting ready to work his first race weekend.
"Some of the guys at the station said that they were involved with it and it sounded interesting so here I am," said Bennett. "It's a different world. It's much different than structural firefighting or fighting car fires on the street."
A different world, but one that Bennett has grown more comfortable working in thanks to the guidance and hands-on experience provided by taking part in these exercises.
"I've never done anything like this before and I've never experienced being on the track with different groups of people going for the same goal. So it is reassuring to have this training and get your feet wet before you jump in the ocean," said Bennett. "I feel quite confident and believe in the crew that I will be working with that we can handle it."
Confidence is a good sign because getting everyone up to speed and on the same page for their assignments is what this training is all about.
"We'll hurry them, we'll rush them and try to put them under a race condition. We'll critique and go over it," said Henley. "If they do something wrong we'll do it again. We'll do it until we get it right."
That's because this is some of the most important prep that happens before Georgia's NASCAR weekend, and getting it right is necessary to have the desired outcome in March.
"What I want to see is one a good race and the fans to have a good time. On our end it's everyone going home safely," said Stewart. "That's a good weekend for us."
The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 weekend features three days packed full of NASCAR action.
The Atlanta NASCAR Weekend begins with cars on track Friday, March 13, and continues with the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series doubleheader on Saturday, March 14. All of this leads to the main event: the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Sunday, March 15.
Tickets for the 2020 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 can be purchased by contacting Atlanta Motor Speedway at 770-946-4211, 877-9-AMS-TIX or by visiting www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.