Atlanta loses a NASCAR race, but the bigger one remains

The Labor Day night race is now the franchise for AMS. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The Labor Day race is now the franchise for AMS. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

A long-running rumor became sobering reality Thursday: Atlanta Motor Speedway has lost one of its Sprint Cup events for 2011. The track that has played host to two NASCAR events for half a century — NASCAR itself is only 63 years old — has seen its allotment halved. This is not good news.

To his credit, AMS president Ed Clark didn’t try to pretend it was. “It’s got a little sting to it,” he said. “The tough part was telling the staff. They deserved to be the first to know. But every one of them said they have a commitment to building the Labor Day weekend race into the biggest event in the state.”

The cold reality is that the Speedway has no choice. No longer does it have two races to market, two sets of tickets to sell. It’s down to one.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a great thing,” said Clark, meaning losing one race. “But there’s opportunity in it.”

And there is. The Labor Day weekend Sunday night race came into being last year and will be known as the Emory Healthcare 500 this September. AMS was so hot to have the night race that it ceded its place in the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup, and the first go-round left Clark and his folks hugely encouraged.

Even when the track was playing host to two events, it was clear AMS saw Labor Day as the greater of the two. “No doubt about it,” Clark said. “It’s a holiday weekend at a more favorable time of the year … It’s tough to do an outdoor event here in March. Even if it’s 60 degrees for the race, it’s cold for the [overnight] campers.”

That said … no speedway wants to see one of its races go elsewhere. (Speculation is that the Atlanta spring race will fall to the Kentucky Speedway, which is a corporate brother of AMS. Small world.) There’s a stigma to losing anything, and AMS has long seen itself as one of the pillars of NASCAR.

Atlanta wasn’t quite Daytona or Talladega or Charlotte on the circuit, but it was a big Southern city with two annual races, and the fall event was the prestigious season-ender. But then NASCAR sought to get bigger and wider, and tracks outside the deep South were handed Cup events and AMS was dislodged by Homestead, Fla., as the site of the season’s final race, and soon Atlanta was fighting to keep up.

The loss of the spring race marks another annual sporting event gone from the local calendar, taking its place on the dusty shelf of golf tournaments and tennis events — though the Atlanta Tennis Championships made a reappearance last month — and the Tour de Georgia. It’s a reflection of a crowded marketplace and shrinking pocketbooks and sponsorships, sure, but the absence of any event marks another rip in the fabric of civic life.

This doesn’t, however, mean that Atlanta has become a NASCAR ghost town. The Labor Day race has real potential, and it falls at a sweet spot in the sporting schedule: On a holiday weekend, flush with the beginning of college football, a week before the NFL commences.

“We’re going to maximize the opportunity,” said Clark, who’s a salesman of the first rank. “We’ve expanded our [Labor Day] schedule from two days to four.” There’ll be a Drivin’ N Cryin’ concert on Friday night, and the morning after the race the speedway will serve free breakfast to its campers.

“That’s our focus,” Clark said. “We’re throwing every effort toward that one weekend.”

Moral of our story: When NASCAR hands you a lemon, you make lemonade. You sell the heck out of the one race you have left.

193 comments Add your comment

Stan Diego

August 5th, 2010
4:07 pm

first, or should I say pole position?

Mark Bradley

August 5th, 2010
4:08 pm

Bob Horner likes racin

August 5th, 2010
4:20 pm

I wish they had taken away a race from Martinsville or Pocono…those 2 races suck…

JJ

August 5th, 2010
4:21 pm

rduck

August 5th, 2010
4:26 pm

Mark, why do you think they chose to take a date from Atlanta as opposed to California or Pocono?

cattledawg

August 5th, 2010
4:26 pm

Hasnt attendance dropped off quite a bit in the last few years?

nola atl fan

August 5th, 2010
4:27 pm

Bradley going all Omar Infante on us… showing his versatility w/ a Nascar/ AMS blog.

nice job Mark – wonder if you are going to add NHL hockey back up on that shelf soon?

rduck

August 5th, 2010
4:29 pm

Well at least I got a Top 5. Good points day for the RDUCK Cheverolet,,

WonderDawg

August 5th, 2010
4:30 pm

NASCAR lost it’s appeal to me when it added the “Chase,” obviously to help someone, anyone keep Jeff Gordon from breaking the all time record of championships. He would already be one away from that under the old format.

Clete

August 5th, 2010
4:31 pm

They should’ve dropped one of the Pocono races. Bob Horner is right, that race sucks. Or………they could’ve dropped one of those stupid road courses.

Delbert D.

August 5th, 2010
4:34 pm

NASCAR is a sport? I guess NASA is a sport, too…

jakesdad

August 5th, 2010
4:35 pm

giving up the chase race for Labor Day was AMS’ idea? I’d been to almost every AMS race since fall ‘03 (my 1st live one) but Labor Day killed the fall one for me. sorry, but I did well to get home by midnight w/the old start time – w/a night race I’d be a True Blood character trying to beat the sunrise… BTW – I agree about Pocono but more from a safety (or lack there of) standpoint – that place is going to get a driver killed even w/SAFER, COT, etc…

Lowcountry Bulldawg

August 5th, 2010
4:36 pm

The reality is they could take away a race from every track except Daytona, Talladega and Bristol and then they might be able to fill up the seats at the tracks. Look at how many empty seats The Brickyard had and tell me Nascar doesnt have more of a problem than two races at Atlanta.

One is the cost of the “good” seats. Over $120 dollars for a front stretch just at Darlington. Go take a family of four with 8-10 year old kids and have front stretch seats and by the end of the day its a $600- $700 trip. Not to many takers on that front. Nascar needs to reduce costs accross the board. It begins with tickets and then it continues into how Owners operate. Cant fins a sponser? Well stop asking primary ones for $20 million dollars to operate, and you may see Nascar have a rebirth.

Bob in SF

August 5th, 2010
4:39 pm

Maybe if folks had actually come to both races they wouldn’t be taking one away. Just sayin’. AMS hasn’t been the same since they made it a clone tri-oval to fit more seats in. It was the 3rd fastest track on the circuit and suddenly it was just like a dozen other tracks. NASCAR has become a spec series anyway; you can only tell the cars apart by the stickers and I have trouble telling the pretty boy corporate shill drivers apart too.

Bob Horner likes racin

August 5th, 2010
4:39 pm

Clete is right about the road course races…I can watch people doing 90mph on I-285….(for free)

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

"Chef" Tim Dix

August 5th, 2010
4:41 pm

Major economic hit to the southside (Hampton, Griffin, McDonough).

Ed is good at his job and will find ways to fill the schedule.

Perhaps more IRL?

Buzz29

August 5th, 2010
4:42 pm

I’ve been going to AMS since I was 4 (1985). Still have every ticket stub. I fear that that I will not re-new my tickets for next years race. The sport has gotten away from its roots. Why does New Hampshire have two races. Pocono, Michigan, Fontana and several more tracks do not deserve two races. Fuel mileage races are boring. Two of the closest races in NASCAR history were in the Atlanta spring race by my favorite racers, Earnhardt and Harvick (hence the 29 in Buzz).

So long NASCAR and the $4000 my family spent during the two Atlanta races every year. I guess I can finally upgrade my season tickets at Bobby Dodd.

Go to hell Bruton Smith and Brian France. And take Jimmie Johnson with you.

WM

August 5th, 2010
4:42 pm

The problem is NASCAR grew too big to quick and they allowed all these 1.5 cookie tracks to be built. Not to mention how the sport has priced itself out the their core fan base by trying to appeal to the Hollywood types and go after TV deals. Yes, I understand TV deals pay the bills and it’s good to attract new fans, but not at the expense of alienating the fans that put them in that position to begin with. Really what needs to happen is that Winston Cup needs to split into two divisions like some of the smaller touring series do. Call it Winston Cup East/West. Both divisions start the season in February at Daytona then break out into their own regional schedules coming together at certain tracks, then end the “regular” season in August. Take the top 10 drivers from each division and run 10 races from August till November at tracks across the country, ending the chase in a traditional market like Charlotte or Darlington. But I digress. I haven’t watched one all the way through or attended a race in years as I already know who will win. And I’d rather spend my $100 at a tracks like Dixie, Lanier, Rome, or Senoia.

Worm

August 5th, 2010
4:44 pm

Not smart on nascars part..labor day is football and pennant RACES!

SimpleDawg

August 5th, 2010
4:44 pm

Dear NASCAR,

Well, I can see the beginning of the end for NASCAR.

First you dropped Rockingham…..OK, couldn’t sell enough tickets. The track is in the middle of nowhere, and you can’t get there from anywhere. It was always a good race and an awful lot of people would still watch it on TV. I’d rather watch a race at The Rock than one of those boring new cookie cutter tracks.

Next you dropped one of the races at Darlington, and moved the other race to Mother’s Day weekend. Really? One of the oldest and most unique tracks on the circuit – the very essence of stock car racing…..it’s still a great race, but the area from which you can draw butts for the seats has been reduced due to the date.

Now, you’ve dropped a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway….the fastest, most exciting track on the circuit. Not enough ticket sales? Early spring and November were not good weather dates – too cold and windy in early March, and too cold and often rainy in November. OK, so you recently moved one date to September – the beginning of Football Season. Who made this decision? One of your staff Northerners or Westerners? Stupid. Atlanta, Georgia happens to be smack dab in the middle of Football-is-a-Religion country. Still not selling enough tickets? How many people are watching the damn race on TV? A bunch…both races!

How many butts have been in the seats in California? Unless everyone is wearing aluminum foil clothing, you could throw a hand grenade into the stands without injuring anything but the seats. How about Kansas City…or Chicago?….and they all have 2 races. They haven’t earned 2 races! And you’re still running 2 races at that POS track in New Hampshire. Really? New Hampshire? Yeah, Yeah, I know it’s for New York City….where they all think we’re a bunch of beer swilling boobs in wife-beater t-shirts, chewing tobacco, and wearing over-alls. They damn sure haven’t earned 2 races!

I don’t know how one organization can be so smart for so long and then go brain dead within a few years…….

Makes me think that we have different people running things now…..not just different people, different kinds of people…..certainly no history majors. The kind of people who would dump their wife of 20 years for a pretty young girl who’ll lift her skirt for you to have a free look…..only to steal your wallet when you get to the hotel room.

Stupid.

Brett

August 5th, 2010
4:44 pm

In the last 15 years, NASCAR has done away with Rockingham and North Wilksboro completely, cut Darlington and Atlanta in half while taking the Southern 500 away from Labor Day, all in the name of progress I suppose…

As far as attendance goes, without looking at anything specific I wouldn’t say that it has fallen off more than any other track over the last 2 years as the recession has just killed ticket sales pretty much everywhere. Atlanta is generally considered the fastest track and had some of the most memorable finishes ever- and that’s just within the past 10 years.

Herschel Talker

August 5th, 2010
4:45 pm

MB:

So what

HT

JT

August 5th, 2010
4:46 pm

Right on, Lowcountry. Brian France has GOT to go. He is running this ship into the ground.

P. Bull Terrier

August 5th, 2010
4:48 pm

Not that I care all that much about NASCAR anyway, but this is just one more reason not to waste my time with it. Just like the NBA’s efforts to market it’s product to the gangster rap culture is driving away many of it’s old suburban fans, NASCAR’s efforts to attract a new audience will erode it’s traditional fan base and leave executives wondering what went wrong.

ex-nascar fan

August 5th, 2010
4:49 pm

Nascar fan since 1958. The name Nascar is nolonger true. Now it is just a dollar machine for the France family and the Smith family. The name was for stock cars. Now nothing is stock about them. 3/4 size, you can’t buy the car or the parts at the dealership.. Nascar has become a joke and it makes me sad to watch. Show me the love of the sport like Dale Sr, Richard, Cale, David, Bobby, Junior Johnson. The drivers of those days loved the sport, not the dollar. Now its just the almghty dollar. I will start going back to the local Saturday night dirt track. Those guys still love the sport. Hopefully that will continue.

cattledawg

August 5th, 2010
4:49 pm

The problem is nascar is catering to all these high falutin, maladjusted fancy pants. Nascar will face dire circumstances in about 5 years if they keep racing down the track they are on.

[...] Read this article: Atlanta loses a NASCAR race, but the bigger one remains | Mark Bradley [...]

ScottBravesfan

August 5th, 2010
4:55 pm

P Bull,

Could not have said it better myself.

Atlanta will be fine with only one race. There are so many sporting options in this city. I’ll just save my money for Braves tickets and Falcon tickets in the fall. Plus let’s be honest NASCAR has become awful with the restrictive plates that makes every car exactly the same. If NASCAR wants to expand fine just take away all of the stupid things that have made the sport generic the last few years.

Petty Dick

August 5th, 2010
4:57 pm

Well NASCAR let Charlotte steal the NASCAR H.O.F. from the ATL. Why not take one of our 2 races too!?

NASCAR sucks now anyway. I used to watch every race and go to BOTH Atlanta races every year. Since they went to the C.O.T. the racing has sucked. I stopped going to races. Now, if I remember, I’ll set the DVR for the race so that I can watch the wrecks and last 5 laps–That is a big if too because they split the schedule up amongst what 4 different channels?

NASCAR took something great and fun and ruined it. They deserve half empty tracks every Sunday the greedy b*****ds.

oldbird

August 5th, 2010
4:59 pm

Too dang many yankee drivers now.

P. Bull Terrier

August 5th, 2010
5:00 pm

Lowcountry Bulldawg and a couple of others make a good point about the cost of tickets. While almost everyone else in the country has cut back spending due to the recession, those who run pro sports leagues and teams are completely unaware that things have changed since the good old days. Instead of dropping ticket prices to keep to keep the fans coming, they continue to raise prices and complain that the fans aren’t supporting the local team/league/event like they should. Pretty soon Sports will just be another branch of Government.

SimpleDawg

August 5th, 2010
5:02 pm

Like everything else in America that’s popular and successful, when the SUITS begin to take over, things tend to get effed up…..money, money, money…….money.

The suits have tried to make NASCAR a sport for the rich and famous at the expense of the loyal fan base. The rich and famous are fickle……and the long time loyal fan feels cheated…and cheated on.

Jeff

August 5th, 2010
5:03 pm

Lowcountry at 4:36 stole my thunder…. he made some GREAT points. To elaborate a little bit:

NASCAR has gotten “too big for its britches” as the saying goes… trying to appeal to everyone and be everything to everybody. What it has wound up doing is alienating many of its true, core fans… and let’s just say who those people are: good, blue-collar, hard-working Southerners.

As a result, the powers that be at NASCAR have strewn races from New Hampshire to Las Vegas to Sonoma… and in the process, the sport has abandoned many fans in NASCAR hotbeds like Charlotte, Atlanta, Darlington, etc.

The sport can repair the damage by doing several things:

1. As Lowcountry said, lower ticket prices ACROSS THE BOARD. A person should be able to buy tickets for a family of four for less than $100 (and I don’t mean last row, 10,000-feet-from-the-track seats… I mean good seats).

2. The sport needs to be more fan friendly… have more chances for the general public to interact with drivers, crew chiefs, etc. Maybe make almost every Friday feature some things to draw fans in, ESPECIALLY kids, at every race at every track. Quit making the sport only appeal to million-dollar-income corporate presidents.

3. Take a hard look at the schedule — the current format makes no sense. Criss-crossing the nation, races during bad weather, races at non-traditional tracks, etc. The heart of the schedule should be at least two races each at the sport’s traditional locations — Daytona, Talladega, Atlanta, Charlotte, Bristol, Darlington, Richmond, Martinsville, Texas etc. The second tier of races should be places like Dover, Michigan, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Vegas, Homestead, New Hampshire, Pocono, etc. IF THERE IS ROOM, THEN you add road courses in Watkins Glen or races for the avacado-and-sprouts-and-sushi crowd in California. This way, NASCAR could EASILY cater to its strongest base of fans (Southerners) while reducing the least-popular races.

4. FINALLY: If you DO take a race from a popular track (Atlanta, Darlington, etc.), then do a rotation basis: one year, Atlanta and Darlington and places like that get one race while California or Kentucky or Fontana or New Hampshire get two. Then the NEXT year, you give a race BACK to a traditional Southern market and you tell the Yankees and California people “tough luck, this year you only get one.” It would NOT be that hard to do that and appease all your markets.

However, if NASCAR keeps on its current course, it is going to alienate a lot of its core fanbase… remember, boys, NEVER bite the hand that feeds you, and right now, you’re chewing it off.

Bob Horner likes racin

August 5th, 2010
5:05 pm

I think the NASCAR HOF but belongs in Charlotte…JMO….my problem is why does Virginia get 4 races/yr…and we get screwed..??? I hate that Martinsville race I know the winning driver gets a grandfather clock and it’s an old short track..(tradition)…but if it’s all about TV numbers that race can’t do that well….

Michael

August 5th, 2010
5:11 pm

I really don’t get this move. One reason I always like watching the races at Atlanta is because it’s a track with two or three lanes for racing, meaning we don’t watch some parade of cars. I don’t watch NASCAR as much as I used to, but there are plenty of tracks that should be ditched before Atlanta.

I think NASCAR should consider going a little crazy. I don’t know how, but I have thoughts of the Sprint Cup Series being broken into two and reduced to about 30 races. You could have two 20-25 car race series that are still top flight with drivers split up somehow. But everybody could still race together at Daytona and maybe somewhere else. Basically it would allow more tracks to get races, more TV money for NASCAR, and more opportunities for fans to see races. The downside is the same as in MLB and the NFL, where some of the best players don’t always play each other, but think of the upside.

Worm

August 5th, 2010
5:12 pm

The teams are hurting for sponsors and this just increases their travel schedule and COSTS!..Just further elevates the big money teams..I live in the same neighborhood as alot of drivers and the chatter isn’t pleased!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Charles Mobley, Debi Garrison, Jolon Davis, Jolon Davis, Jolon Davis and others. Jolon Davis said: Atlanta loses a NASCAR race, but the bigger one remains: Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)(A… http://bit.ly/cOq7T0 http://www.statusglobal.com [...]

Joe Gibbs Racing Fan

August 5th, 2010
5:14 pm

With all the FORTUNE 500 Companies that are NASCAR primary and associate sponsors based here in Atlanta that pump Million$$$ into that sport and use those races as opportunities for employee perks, executive pampering, cooperative marketing and chance to gloat to the rest of the corporate world, how the [ EXPLETIVE DELETED ] did AMS manage to lose one of its Sprint Cup races?

HOW ????

GSU Eagle 91

August 5th, 2010
5:15 pm

The reason they are taking a race away from Atlanta is the reasoning that the race never sells out in the Spring. They have been watching this trend for years and finally a move was made…The Kentucky track will be a pretty good show, BTW…
Atlanta is NOT the fastest track…Talladega is…In fact, it is the fastest closed course track in the world, and it’s ease of entry/exit make it a great place to see a race. I much prefer going there over Daytona and Atlanta….
100.00 tickets and boorish drivers are the main problem with NASCAR…..

Pat's Rockett

August 5th, 2010
5:17 pm

Used to go to the two races a year plus one race a year at a track if it was within driving distance. Got tired of the boring, rigged races and the extremely high ticket prices. Dont even watch it on TV anymore , got better things to watch. When we did go ( our last race was Oct.2004) there were empty seats galore and i about fell asleep at the race. Then when we were leaving , we saw a drunk guy punch his wife/girlfriend in the mouth because she wasnt moving when traffic was backed up. Give me a Braves/Falcons/Hawks game anyday over that mess.

Joe Gibbs Racing Fan

August 5th, 2010
5:18 pm

CORRECTION:

“….and CHANCES to gloat to the rest of the corporate world…”

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, Jim Tanner. Jim Tanner said: RT @MarkBradleyAJC Atlanta Motor Speedway loses one of its NASCAR races, but the bigger one — Labor Day — remains. http://bit.ly/a15R31 [...]

Bob Horner likes racin

August 5th, 2010
5:20 pm

@Pat’s Rockett The guy probably had to pee…and his wife balked at him peeing in an emplty beer can….leaving the Atlanta race is a nightmare…you’re the only one to bring that up….nice post…

Petty Dick

August 5th, 2010
5:20 pm

To piggy back on P. Bull Terrier’s ticketing point. That is right. The whole country, save crooked Wall Street and Banking executives are taking pay cuts. Where do professional sport’s team’s owners think the money to buy tickets comes from? People have less money to spend and entertainment prices go up. Doesn’t work that way.

Furthermore what about the athletes? Their salaries are skyrocketing and frankly I am not willing to save up the little extra money I do have on tickets to see grossly over paid athletes.

As far as the NASCAR Drivers go…they are awful now. Not the driving…the personalities. The corporate sponsors have created a situation where the most recognisable and marketable person on the team sounds exactly like the othe 40 someodd drivers.

Here is the standard post race interview–win, lose or wreck mind you: “Well I am just proud of my team. They really got this [Corporate Sponsor's Name, Corporate Sponsor's Name] [Car Manufacturer's Name] Running great. Blah Blah…Something not offensive…Something Not offensive. Blah Blah [Corporat Sponsor's Name] Blah Blah. [Crew Chief's Name] Blah blah blah [Owner's Name] Blah.

Then (and this is my favorite) the interviewer says “Thanks [Driver's Name]”

Thanks for WHAT!? I had 500 miles to read the sponsor on that clown’s car…and the announcers tell me what Car Manufacturer “Pretends” to make the car every other lap!

Maybe…just Maybe the fall of NASCAR can be traced back to the very first time the following was uttered on Television:

“Boogity, Boogity, Boogity, Let’s go racing boys.”

That’s right DW…you are horrible. You need to go along with France and the cartoon beaver or whatever the hell that thing is.

Chef Mentuer

August 5th, 2010
5:26 pm

Who cares! Watching a Nascar race is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Petty Dick

August 5th, 2010
5:28 pm

Been to a race before Chef?

rekingball

August 5th, 2010
5:29 pm

Petty Dick…….Earnhart Jr. accidentally said the s-word on air, a few years back and got penalized 25 points.

jdawg

August 5th, 2010
5:31 pm

Plan to be with my friends of 94,000 in the Classic City for Southern Football…even my ticket is cheaper than NASCAR…now I for sure will not have to worry about traffic, and will already be in Athens…enjoy…

rekingball

August 5th, 2010
5:32 pm

Check out the price of a camping spot in the infield.