|credit: NASCAR Media|
All three of NASCAR’s top series – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series – will be in action this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, GA. The 1.54-mile quad-oval track has seen expansion, plenty of racing and even a few movies being filmed over its 50-plus years on the circuit, and following this weekend’s events, it’ll be getting a “facelift.” Here’s a quick history of this fast and historic track.
- 1.5-mile Atlanta International Raceway, as the track was known from 1960-1990, broke ground in 1958, the dream of Walker Jackson, Lloyd Smith, Garland Bagley, Ralph Sceiano and Ike Supporter. All but Bagley would jump ship on the project before completion due to insufficient funds, but four more men – Dr. Warren Gremmel, Bill Boyd, Jack Black and Art Lester – joined Bagley and spent $1.8 million to ready the oval track for its debut on July 31, 1960. The inaugural Dixie 200 at Atlanta was won by pole sitter Fireball Roberts.
- Atlanta’s debut was less than perfect, as much of the track’s facilities still needed attention. The suffering continued for the track into the 1970s, when it was reorganized under Chapter 10 bankruptcy proceedings. The track would struggle through the 1980s as well, until Oct. 23, 1990, when Bruton Smith – founder of Charlotte Motor Speedway and later Speedway Motorsports Inc. – purchased the track and renamed it Atlanta Motor Speedway.
- In 1991, Smith expanded the East Turn Grandstand and added 30 top-of-the-line suites to the top of the grandstands. In 1994, Tara Place – featuring luxury condos, the Tara Ballroom for events, the speedway’s office and more – opened, and in 1995, the Earnhardt Grandstand was opened. In 1997, the biggest overhaul took place, as the Champions Grandstand was built, the start/finish line was moved from the east side to the west side of the track, and doglegs were added to the new frontstretch, forming the 1.54-mile quad-oval raced on today. The Winners Grandstand opened in 2006.
- From 2009-2014, Atlanta hosted the Cup Series on Labor Day weekend; the Labor Day event was moved back to Darlington Raceway beginning in 2015. In 2015, the track announced they would install the SAFER Barrier around all of the outside track walls and most of the inside track walls. In 2017, following this weekend’s events, the track will undergo its first repave in 20 years.
- Atlanta is currently the only track to have two NASCAR top-tier races scheduled on the same day, as the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series both race on Saturday of the weekend, and the track previously hosted the IndyCar Series. The track previously hosted two Cup Series races, but the second date went to Kentucky Speedway, another Speedway Motorsports, Inc. facility, in 2011.
- The late Dale Earnhardt leads all drivers with nine wins and 26 top five finishes at Atlanta. Buddy Baker and Ryan Newman are tied for the most poles with seven poles each. The Cup Series qualifying record was set by Geoffrey Bodine on Nov. 15, 1997 (197.478 mph/28.074 seconds).
- Three early 1980s car-driven movies were filmed in part at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), Six Pack (1982) and Stroker Ace (1983). Atlanta was also the backdrop for the Garth Brooks/Huey Lewis music video Workin’ for a Livin’.
- Get all the up-to-date racing information for Atlanta Motor Speedway at www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.