Night NASCAR: A ’state fair’ with a race thrown in

They weren't going quite this fast. The iPhone has a slow shutter speed. (Photo by M. Bradley)

They weren't going quite this fast. The iPhone's shutter speed distorts. (Photo by M. Bradley)

This didn’t seem just another Sunday raceday. This was different, bigger, better. This was a raceday at night in the city — well, just south thereof — on a holiday weekend, and the crowd seemed larger and more engaged. Not just another race, this seemed an event.

Ed Clark is the president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, and he took a chance. He opted out of a later race date and a spot in the Chase for a night date on the Sunday before Labor Day. There was reason to think it would work, but also reason to fear it wouldn’t.

The college football season opened in earnest Saturday, and the city was host to two games: One at Georgia Tech and the other under the Georgia Dome. Would folks invest in two (or three) sporting events over one holiday weekend at a time when money’s tight? Would they opt for the Braves instead? Or would they simply sit home and grill burgers in the backyard?

Just eyeballing Sunday’s gathering, the answers were yes, no and no. AMS was jammed in a way it hasn’t been in, Clark estimated, “five or six years at least.” He guessed the turnout for the Pep Boys Auto 500 was “between 110 and 115 or 116,000.” And it wasn’t just about numbers.

The night was a success, Clark said, “because of the anticipation and the enthusiasm … I’d go out in the parking lots, and people would be glad to be here. It’s just an exciting atmosphere. As Bruton Smith [who owns AMS] said: ‘You’re having a state fair and a race is going to break out.’ ”

Tailgating started earlier and lasted longer, and the constituency seemed pleased. “I like it,” said Adam Sapp of Savannah. He’d been in Atlanta since Thursday, having made a holiday weekend of it. (And here we Atlantans figure Savannah is the place to go to get away.)

The Labor Day component? “It’s a great idea,” said Brian Wiscomb of Atlanta. “Just from the timing. It’s cooler [at night]. It’s something new … And the economy is better this time [than for the past two AMS Cup races].”

Said Baris Savas of Gainesville: “I kind of like [night racing]. And it’s nice to do it on a holiday.” He pointed to his 5-year-old son, who’s a kindergartner. “He wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Night racing over Labor Day will be:

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More than a few folks seemed to have made a weekend of it, giving evidence to the notion that college football wasn’t a race deterrent but a lure. Seen entering AMS: An SUV with soaped windows. “Going to watch Bama [which beat Virginia Tech in the Dome] and bound for the Atlanta race.” (There was also the obligatory P.S.: “Auburn [stinks].”)

A quibble: The lights around the track seemed a bit dim, as if somebody had saved money by using 60-watt bulbs instead of 200-watters. (Full disclosure: The race looked brighter on TV than it did at AMS.)

Said Clark: “To make this work, there’s got to be more than just a good race. You’ve got to give people something beyond that. You’ve got to give them a good time.” Then this: “You don’t become a tradition in one year.”

And that’s true. But think of it this way: Not long ago Clark was defusing rumors that Atlanta was poised to lose one of its NASCAR races. On this holiday weekend, AMS not only held its own but took the first step toward minting an event.

31 comments Add your comment

Cuz

September 6th, 2009
10:28 pm

You forgot Dragon Con, do you know how much those costumes cost?

Cuz

September 6th, 2009
10:32 pm

You don’t become a tradition in one year. But if you lose one game, the bandwagon hits the wall and is out with 323 laps to go. And forget about the Cup.

Mark Bradley

September 6th, 2009
10:36 pm

I certainly do. I went as the Mighty Thor.

Cuz

September 6th, 2009
10:51 pm

Where did you find a twenty pound hammer and a blonde wig your size?

Did they have corndogs and vinegar fries at AMS? This is making me hungry. Could you grab me four plain Krystals and a large fry on your way home. Just honk and throw them in my front yard when you roar by in the car that Rick Hendrick let you use for the weekend. Lucky son of a biscuit.

Mark Bradley

September 6th, 2009
10:52 pm

I have seen corn dogs. I know nothing about vinegar fries. And Chef Tim Dix has already alerted me: There’s a Krystal on 19-41.

Tiny Lund

September 6th, 2009
10:55 pm

Woohoo! Now I don’t have to call in sick Monday after the race. I’m gonna catch one ‘em big ole buzzez. Sumbody gimme a couple o turns and a wedge.

Cuz

September 6th, 2009
10:56 pm

Mark, stay away from the brown Krystals. They are bad. You might lose your keys or even come up with a column. Oh wait, uhh.. nevermind.

Mark Bradley

September 6th, 2009
10:57 pm

Good to know Tiny Lund is with us. There’s a name I have not heard in some time.

Tiny Lund

September 6th, 2009
11:02 pm

Thank ya Mark. Now sumbody pass me a quart of Bardahl.

Cuz

September 6th, 2009
11:09 pm

Will this race ever end. It reminds me of a pileup one time on 285. I tried to pass down low, no good. I went up high, blocked there also. I grabbed the caution and finally made it to a QT, checked my tire pressure, got some Powerade and raced down the ramp to get caught in a three wide attempt to get back on the track, uh perimeter. My spotter really let me down.

Mark Bradley

September 6th, 2009
11:19 pm

This correspondent parked in the spotter’s lot at Talladega a couple of years ago. Guy took pity on me, for I knew not where I was.

[...] Night NASCAR: A ’state fair’ with a race thrown in | Mark Bradley blogs.ajc.com/mark-bradley-blog/2009/09/06/night-nascar-a-state-fair-with-a-race-thrown-in – view page – cached Mark Bradley writes that the first NASCAR Cup race run at night at Atlanta Motor Speedway was a box-office smash. — From the page [...]

Ted Striker

September 6th, 2009
11:36 pm

I’m not really a NASCAR guy but night racing holds a unique cachet for me. Maybe it takes me back to those two years dad owned a small dirt racetrack when I was 10 or 11.

One thing I’ll say about NASCAR fans is this: Most are supportive of “their” driver through thick and thin. Darned if I wouldn’t trade some of the UGA fans — who think they are coaching experts — for NASCAR fans.

Cuz

September 6th, 2009
11:46 pm

Casey Kahne finally wins the race that would not end. Mark grab a Bud with Kasey, get him to autograph it and throw it in my yard with the Krsytals. Oh and if you see his sister Kandy, tell her I said hello and we will hook up again at Dover. Tell her I will meet her at the bend in Dover.

Meanwhile...just wondering

September 6th, 2009
11:57 pm

Mark, you ever come across Junior Samples eatin’ a corndog in the halls of Valhalla?

Cuz

September 7th, 2009
12:04 am

Meanwhile, I saw him once on a corner across the street from the Elysian Fields hawking used cars. He had a fake mustache and a sign with a funky phone number. The last I checked, they had a Volvo dealership across from Valhalla Hall.

Meanwhile...just wondering

September 7th, 2009
12:09 am

Elysian Fields you say? I’m not surprised. You just knew a salt of the earth guy like Junior Samples wasn’t going to end up in a pantywaist place like Strawberry Fields forever.

Cuz

September 7th, 2009
12:21 am

Nah Junior had a dove field planted on one side of the Elysians. Charging $50 a head. Sold twelve gauge shells for ten dollars a box. Then Charon the gamewarden would come in and bust everyone for hunting over a baited field. He had this mean dog named Cerberus that would ruin your day if you backtalked him. Bite you three ways from He11.

harry

September 7th, 2009
12:24 am

That event in atlanta was so boreing…the car is so poor its impossible to find tires to make it into a race car a every track..indy was awfull 2 years ago and the fans soon wont want to waste money to watch these guys ride 30 to 50 laps following each other?

I-20 Down Low

September 7th, 2009
12:36 am

A lot of Crimson Tide fans were at the race tonight, apparently still in town for the “Alabama Sports Fantasy Weekend in Atlanta.”

By the way:

Mark Richt F E A R S Coach Saban.

ROLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL

TIDE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ostrich Racer

September 7th, 2009
12:56 am

I like the photo. Hi-octane redneck impressionism; sort of a “LeRoy Neiman meets Scrawls” vibe. And any blog with references to Hee Haw, Norse mythology and the Beatles, all in the same conversation, is doing something right.

Cuz

September 7th, 2009
1:18 am

Ostrich, I would like to say on behalf of the band and myself I hope we passed the audition.

Mark Bradley

September 7th, 2009
1:40 am

Home now. Did not stop at Krystal. Did stop at McDonald’s. Am in awe of the fertile minds at work in my absence.

Nativebird

September 7th, 2009
6:58 am

NASCAR? what’s NASCAR?

69 Dawg

September 7th, 2009
7:23 am

It was a blast … from Tommy Hanson to Sonny Perdue to Tom Cruise. A hot pass in the pits is the way to go. Even got a Jeff Gordon autograph (even though he seemed bothered and unwilling). Crowd was teriffic. Was a “great day” to be AMS …. Nascar is another world. It
was 100 times better than the Falcon exhibition and the Georgia fiasco.
Saw things and people you can’t see anywhere else on this planet. It was cool … it was fun … it was a little long. I’d like to see it be 400 miles divided into two races with a top four car 100 miles shoot out.

GT71

September 7th, 2009
8:11 am

nascar? Who cares?

Ostrich Racer

September 7th, 2009
8:47 am

You know, if Schultz had used a “state fair” angle on a piece, we’d have gotten a Judy Garland photo. (”Both Sides Now”? In a sports blog? Seriously?)

Mort

September 7th, 2009
9:34 am

Georgia does have Sunday sales of alcohol. It’s called mouthwash.

Mark Bradley

September 7th, 2009
10:26 am

Go to a horse race, you get a hot tip. Go to NASCAR and get a hot pass.

jw

September 7th, 2009
11:31 am

AMS has finally found a weekend that will keep NASCAR in Atlanta. Regardless of the posts, the NASCAR folks that will read this will know that this race was a test for AMS and the Atlanta area.

Rumors are out there that one Atlanta race will be taken away in the future – especially after that dismal mess in March with more empty seats than paying customers.

My one request – work on the front stretch prices just a little bit more. You can still tweak those prices a little bit more – you could still sell those Earnhardt/Petty tiers a little bit cheaper and still make your profit numbers – if you had approximately 4000 empty seats (AMS lists 120,000 seats), that means 0 dollars – 4,000 tickets at any cost brings in revenue of some kind – cutting the prices a little bit more would sell those seats and prevent the March embarrassment from ever happening again. The Elliott Grandstand is a great example – you never have to worry about selling it out anymore – you have the prices tiered exactly right!

Also, advertise the specials a little bit more – Kroger had one, McDonald’s had one, Papa Johns had one – didn’t find out about any of those until yesterday’s race – get them out on the web a little bit more and don’t be afraid of people knowing about them!

Good job Mr. Clark and staff – keep up the good work! It was great – even leaving the site was easier this time!

The comments seem to always turn ugly in here, so hopefully those in charge will pass the constructive comments about the race and the weekend to the proper folks at AMS – it was a great weekend for race fans and a great showcase for the Atlanta area – regardless of what others will post – NASCAR is big deal – and a big deal to our community – let’s get behind it and keep it in our community! It would be very sad to see ATL lose events to a community that has no business hosting a NASCAR event -

MC From Bham

September 7th, 2009
11:49 am

Mark, we went to the race last night and loved it. I was pleasantly surprised to see the stands full. All the people around us were having a great time. I’m not sure what it looked like on t.v. but it was great to see a night race in person. Didn’t have a Hot Pass but we did have Cold one’s; awesome experience. I’m rooting for Ed Clark and the folks at AMS to succeed. Looking forward to Dega in less than two months.