Address: Atlanta Motor Speedway, 1500 Tara Place, Hampton, GA 30228, USA
PH: +1 707 9464211
Circuit type: Permanent oval and road courses
Atlanta Motor Speedway has undergone a complete transformation under the stewardship of Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsport's company, turning what was a meagre facility struggling to survive into one of the premier superspeedways in America.
The circuit has its origins in plans hatched in 1958 by Walker Jackson, Lloyd Smith, Garland Bagley, Ralph Sceiano and Ike Supporter. Construction began but before it could be completed, funds ran dry and all bar Bagley had pulled out. New investors, in the shape of Dr. Warren Gremmel, Bill Boyd, Jack Black and Art Lester, pumped in $1.8million to finish construction in 1959.
By all accounts, while construction had been completed, the circuit was far from ready for racing. Creature comforts for spectators were fairly minimal – the only toilets in the facility were a three-hole outhouse in the infield – and the first row of seating in the grandstand was too low to see over the track wall and mud abounded at every turn.
Still, Atlanta International Raceway (as it was then known) showed promise, having been built in a dip in the ground forming a natural bowl for spectators. Those not in the grandstands or wooden bleachers brought blankets to sit on the earth banks to observe the action. At 1.522 miles it became the seventh superspeedway to host a NASCAR Cup race when it finally made its racing debut on July 31, 1960.
Through the 1960s and '70s it scraped out an existence, struggling to make money and eventually entering Chapter 10 bankruptcy. Several changes of management ensued before settling down with Walt Nix, who served as general manager for much of the next two decades except for a brief period when NASCAR president Mike Helton was in charge.
Indycar came and went from the facility in the mid-60s before returning for a five-year stint in 1978. Rick Mears dominated the victory count during this period with five wins, only interrupted by Gordon Johncock and Johnny Rutherford. NASCAR continued its presence throughout this period and its two races – the Atlanta 500 and the Dixie 500 – became staple parts of the calendar.
In October 1990, the event that would shape Atlanta's rising fortunes occurred, when the facility was purchased by Bruton Smith and was renamed 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 adorned the top gave new meaning to the word 'luxurious'.
The expansion continued in 1994, when the nine-storey Tara Place opened, containing more luxury suites, the speedway offices, a ballroom and 46 luxury condominiums. Alongside it was the Tara Clubhouse and its accompanying swimming pool and tennis courts. A year later, the Earnhardt Grandstand opened.
Smith still had further ambitions to transform the facility and in 1997 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. The project made the track one of the fastest on the NASCAR circuit.
Running alongside the new start/finish section was the new Champions Grandstand which increased the total of luxury suites to 137. New media facilities, garages and countless fan support buildings were added at the same time.
Jimmy Carter worked as a ticket taker at the track in the 1960s, and attended several races there as Georgia governor and as US President.
Two weather-related events happened in the mid-2000s. In 2004, the circuit became an impromptu shelter for evacuees from Florida fleeing Hurricane Frances. While there were no indoor facilities available, visitors waited out the extremely slow-moving storm parked in their recreational vehicles, after creeping along for hours in traffic on nearby Interstate 75. The following year, it was the circuit's turn to be at the eye of the storm. On the evening of July 6, 2005, an F2 tornado spawned from the remains of Hurricane Cindy swept through the facility, causing major damage. Roofs and facades were torn off buildings but, remarkably, all had been repaired or rebuilt in time for the autumn NASCAR race.
In October, 2006 Atlanta Motor Speedway added another Grandstand, the Winners 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 Winners 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.
Atlanta's expansion under Smith's ownership has not just been in terms of facilities; the number of series visiting the track has also greatly increased while the venue has been host to everything from dog shows to concerts and business conventions.
Atlanta Motor Speedway is located approximately 30 miles south of Atlanta in Hampton,Henry County Georgia. The nearest international airport is Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson, approximatley 24 miles or a 35 minute drive away to the north of the circuit. Altanta South Regional Airport/Calyton County Airport is immediately adjacent to the Speedway for private charter flights.
If you are driving south towards Atlanta Motor Speedway, there are two exits off I-75 for reaching the track and both are comparable distances. From Exit #235 (11.1 miles south of downtown Atlanta), continue south on Highway 19 & 41 for 15 miles. Alternatively, take Exit #218 while traveling south on I-75 (27.7 miles south of downtown Atlanta). Once on Highway 20, head west for 10 miles and follow signs to the track. Traveling north on 1-75, fans can first take Exit #205 and head west on GA 16 West into Griffin. Then take U.S. Highway 19 & 41 north towards Atlanta Motor Speedway (approximately 10 miles). Alternatively take Exit #212 off I-75 and head west on Hampton-Locust Grove Road to GA 20. Take GA 20 west for approximately two miles to Atlanta Motor Speedway.