The AMS Story
Few who saw Atlanta Motor Speedway in its infancy would recognize the track today. Located just south of Atlanta on 850 majestic acres in Hampton, Ga., today's Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of the country's premier sports and entertainment facilities.
But it's a far cry from the structure planned in 1958. Before construction of the proposed superspeedway had been completed, insufficient funds forced four of the five original founders to abandon ship. Dr. Warren Gremmel, Bill Boyd, Jack Black, and Art Lester joined the remaining founder, Garland Bagley, in the venture and spent $1.8 million to get the facility ready.
But ready, in this case, was a relative term.
"The track wasn't ready to be used," recalled Furman Bisher, then sports editor of The Atlanta Journal. "Some of the lower seats were so low fans couldn't see over the retaining wall. The only bathroom facility in the infield was a three-hole outhouse. There was mud all over. You talk about Mudville. Casey would have been right at home."
When the 1.5-mile track, then called Atlanta International Raceway, finally made its debut on July 31, 1960, it became the seventh superspeedway, a paved facility of one mile or more, to play host to a Cup race. Only three of the original seven; Darlington Raceway, Daytona International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway are still in operation.
But, the Atlanta track's future was hazy in the 1960s and '70s, when it suffered several financial setbacks. The track was reorganized under Chapter Ten bankruptcy proceedings in the 1970s and went through several general managers before settling down with Walt Nix, who served as general manager for much of the next two decades except for a brief period when current NASCAR president Mike Helton was in charge.
Even through financial difficulties, Atlanta had attracted the attention of key local figures and celebrities. While running for governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, an avid race fan and former ticket vendor at the track in the '60s, promised a barbecue dinner at the governor's mansion if he won. He kept that promise, then improved on it by inviting the racing community to another cookout in 1978; this time at the White House.
Despite the great racing and national attention, Atlanta International Raceway was still a meager facility struggling to get by.
With just the Weaver Grandstand and wooden bleachers on the backstretch, fans would bring blankets and sit on the dirt bank.
Bruton Smith changed all that when he purchased Atlanta International Raceway on October 23, 1990, and renamed the facility Atlanta Motor Speedway. A year later, the addition of the East Turn Grandstand expanded the seating capacity by 25,000, and the 30 suites that rimmed the top gave new meaning to the word "luxurious."
Under Smith's stewardship, Atlanta Motor Speedway not only has undergone massive expansion, but it has dramatically increased its menu, hosting everything from Xfinity Series and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Drag Racing, Legends, and Bandolero Racing to car shows, concerts, and business conventions.
In 1994, Tara Place, the nine-story building that houses 46 luxury condominiums, Tara Ballroom, the speedway office complex, and more luxury suites opened, as did the adjacent Tara Clubhouse and its accompanying swimming pool and tennis courts. A year later, the Earnhardt Grandstand opened, and in 1997, the great transformation was completed. The Champions Grandstand was added, and the total of luxury suites was increased to 137. When the Champions Grandstand was built, the start/finish line was moved from the west to the east side of the track, and two doglegs were added to the frontstretch to form a 1.54-mile quad-oval, which replaced the original oval. New media facilities, garages, and countless fan-support buildings were added to what has become a modern motorsports palace.
In October 2006 Atlanta Motor Speedway added another Grandstand, the Winners (now called Johnson) Grandstand, offering fans a great view of the frontstretch and pit road. A Trackside Terrace Luxury RV Camping area replaced the aged Weaver Grandstands as well.
Sitting atop the Johnson Grandstand is a public suite called Club One. Limited to just 1,000 occupants, the exclusive club offers a climate-controlled view of the entire track as well as a rooftop sight and sound observation deck.
Today, the speedway continues to entertain fans with a host of events and activities with a fans first motto that has seen a modernization of the facilities with upgraded infrastructure to carry the facility into the 21st century.