Track-Prep Key To Success Of Friday Night Drags
Summer nights at Atlanta Motor Speedway are filled with the sights, sounds and smells of O'Reilly Auto Parts Friday Night Drags, one of the largest organized street-style drag racing programs in the nation. Drivers in 18 different racing divisions compete each week in a side-by-side, elimination-style challenge to determine who's got the fastest car, truck or motorcycle on the pit-lane drag strip.
On the surface, it might seem like there's not much to it. Cars show up, line up two-at-a-time in the launch box and mash the gas when the lights go green. But "street-style" doesn't tell the entire story.
Friday Night Drags doesn't gain its notoriety without its meticulously groomed drag strip that helps high-powered tires grip and hold-on when accelerating down its 1/8-mile length. It's a nearly day-long task to prepare the track, beginning early Friday afternoons and wrapping up just in time for racers to rev it up when the sun goes down.
"The finish line has to be put up and taken down every Friday," said Rodney Fordham, AMS's drag-strip supervisor. "You have to put the lights in, plug up wires. It takes a good while.
"Every day I start brooming, sweeping, vacuuming. That goes for about three hours. The track gets washed down with methanol and then it's sprayed (for grip) twice a night."
Fordham has been preparing the track with his crew of seven at Atlanta Motor Speedway since the inception of Friday night drags back in 2008, and it's a major point of pride that he can hang his hat on.
"I was told that we were the second-best track in Georgia," said Fordham. "That's a very good compliment."
That hard work might not be as apparent to the fans in the grandstands, but the staff at AMS knows exactly what it takes to get the drag strip in tip-top shape each week.
"It's the most important thing we do," said Brandon Hutchison, assistant GM at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "It sets the tone for the whole night. Our operations staff gets out here at about noon, and it's about a five- six-hour process to get things ready, but they do a really good job at it. We hear positive things."
Of course, it's not a matter of finishing up late in the afternoon and punching out for the evening. The work to maintain the track throughout the night never stops, especially when automotive fluids threaten to compromise its integrity.
"For oil downs, we usually get it up with Suck-Up," said Fordham. "And then (the track) is washed down again with methanol and then sprayed again with Lane Choice."
Said Hutchison, "You never know. It's going to be transmission fluid, it might be oil, it might be rear-end grease, but they do a really good job. They get us back racing, and usually it's a little faster than we expect it to be.
"We've got some guys out here that are part of our track crew that are really passionate about racing, so they want to make sure it's done right. They want to make sure they take the time, but at the same time, they understand that it's a show, and we've got to keep things moving."
Fordham's crew knows for sure that their work has paid off the later into the night the racing continues. The feeling of satisfaction really sinks in when the on-track product is performing at its highest.
"The cooler it gets, the better the track is," said Fordham. "Any time after 9 p.m., you're going to see some really good racing."
Atlanta Motor Speedway's O'Reilly Auto Parts Friday Night Drags & Show-N-Shine wraps up the 2017 season with the 16th and final week this Friday, Aug. 18. Grandstand gates open at 6:30 p.m., and nightly drag race eliminations start just after 9:00 p.m.
Entry to drag race or for the Show-N-Shine is just $20 or competitors can purchase a combo ticket for $30. Spectator tickets are just $10, and children 5 and under are free. More information can be found at www.atlantamotorspeedway.com/drags or by calling the Atlanta Motor Speedway Ticket Office at (770) 946-4211.