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The Atlanta Motor Speedway has been among the fastest tracks in NASCAR racing for decades and although its racing schedule has been scaled down in recent years, it continues to host big races and draw huge crowds to this day.
Located in Hampton, Georgia, this 1.54-mile quad-oval track has a rich history and was used as a location more than once in Hollywood movies about car racing. It was even used as an emergency shelter for people from Florida evacuated following Hurricane Frances.
Dale Earnhardt holds the records at this track for most wins and most top fives, while Richard Petty holds the records for most top tens, most starts and most laps completed.
The Atlanta Motor Speedway is owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc which owns eight other racing facilities with a combined spectator capacity of almost 900,000.
In this article we’ll dig into the Atlanta Motor Speedway’s history, race highlights and everything else we can get our hands on to give you a complete picture of one of NASCAR’s top tracks.
60 years ago in Hampton, Georgia, about 30 miles south of Atlanta, construction started on what would one day become the Atlanta Motor Speedway. That was in 1958 and a lot has changed over the last six decades.
Originally planned by Walker Jackson, Lloyd Smith, Garland Bagley, Ralph Sceiano and Ike Supporter, the track hit some early speed bumps before it was even built.
Due to a lack of funding, all original founders were forced to pull out. All except Garland Bagley who found new partners to help complete the project. Dr. Warren Gremmel, Bill Boyd, Jack Black and Art Lester stepped in to work with Bagley and the group spent roughly $1.8 million collectively to complete construction on the new racing facility.
“The track wasn’t ready to be used,” remembered Furman Bisher, former 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.”
The first races were held at the track, then known as Atlanta International Speedway, on July 31, 1960. At the time it was only the seventh track to host a Cup race. It’s one of the three original tracks that are still open today.
The track’s first event was the Dixie 300, won by Fireball Roberts.
Following the track’s first races in 1960, it didn’t take long for financial challenges to start becoming an issue. It struggled through the 1960s before officially declaring bankruptcy in the 1970s.
Throughout the 70s the track was managed by a string of different people, including NASCAR president Mike Helton.
As it turns out, US President Jimmy Carter had been a ticket vendor at the track in the 60s and hosted a barbeque for the racing community at the governor’s mansion in 1971 and again at the White House when he became president in 1977.
The track was also featured in the opening scenes of Smokey and the Bandit II which was released in 1980 as well as the 1983 film Stroker Ace, both of which starred Burt Reynolds.
Despite hosting big races and getting national attention, the facility was underdeveloped and didn’t have a lot to offer spectators.
“It was just the Weaver Grandstand and wooden bleachers on the backstretch,” said Frances Goss, a former ticket manager for the track. “Fans would bring blankets and sit on the dirt bank.”
The Atlanta Motor Speedway’s money troubles continued until 1990 when the track was purchased by a new owner with a big plans.
Business may have been a struggle for Atlanta’s race track in its first 30 years of operation but that changed completely when it was purchased in 1990 by motorsports magnate Bruton Smith and his company Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
The new owners changed the track’s name to the Atlanta Motor Speedway and began expanding the facilities in a big way.
In 1994 the track built 46 luxury condominiums on the premises and began construction on two huge grandstands.
By 1997 the Earnhardt and Champions Grandstands were finished, offering 137 luxury suites. The facility had also built the Tara Ballroom and Tara Clubhouse which offered amenities like a swimming pool, tennis courts and office complex.
It was during this time that the start/finish line was moved to the east side of the track and two doglegs were added to bring the total length of the track up to 1.54 miles.
In 2006 the spectator experience was further expanded to include the Winners Grandstand which features a special suite perched on the top floor. Club One offers exclusive seating for 1,000 fans with AC and a panoramic view of the entire track.
Starting in 2009 the Atlanta Motor Speedway was home to a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race every year on Labor Day weekend. It was the first Cup series event with a later start time that allowed for driving under the stadium lights. The Labour Day race weekend continued until 2014.
During that time, Speedway Motorsports’ president Ed Clark decided to scale back NASCAR racing at the Atlanta location, moving the track’s spring event to the Kentucky Speedway.
Nowadays the Atlanta Motor Speedway continues to host the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 in the NASCAR Cup Series, as well as the Rinnai 250 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the Ultimate Tailgating 200 in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
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