By admin | March 7, 2008
Atlanta Calling: Will the fans of tradition answer?
By Richard Allen
In March of 2000 Dale Earnhardt beat Bobby Labonte by .010 seconds. One year later, Earnhardt’s successor, Kevin Harvick, beat Jeff Gordon by .006 seconds. In March of 2005 Carl Edwards passed Jimmie Johnson on the last lap to earn a win by the slight margin of .028 seconds.
Each of these finishes occurred on the same track, Atlanta Motor Speedway. So, it would be logical to assume that a track with a history of producing fast, exciting races with heart stopping finishes must have packed grandstands every time the green flag waves. However, that is not the case.
More often than not, races held on the 1.5 mile facility are contested in front of scores of empty seats. That was especially true for a few years following the 1997 reconfiguration of the speedway. That year, new grandstands were built and the shape of the track was slightly altered. Also, the front and back stretches were flipped. The old grandstands were left in place but rarely had more than a few fans in them.
A 2005 tornado destroyed those old bleachers but even with the reduced seating capacity the track scarcely comes close to a sellout.
Some might argue that the city itself is part of the problem. Atlanta has long been regarded as a town that does not support sports very well. Evidence of that can be seen when Atlanta Braves playoff games do not even sell out. This is not really a viable argument. The track only hosts two Sprint Cup races per year and the spectators come from all over the region and country, not just the city of Atlanta.
Some may want to point out the traffic nightmares that used to plague the area, but that has been vastly improved. The Car of Tomorrow, a favorite subject of scorn for traditionalists, has not been used on this track until this year. The Chase for the Championship, yet another target of tradition minded fans, does not seem to have a significant impact on this track’s competition level.
With so many excuses removed it remains somewhat of a mystery as to why race promoters are not forced to turn people away from this facility.
Is it that those who complain about the loss of tradition are the same people who never leave the comfort of their living rooms? If you are a fan of tradition and do not like the fact that venues such as Darlington, Rockingham and North Wilkesboro have lost dates then go to Atlanta and fill those grandstands before one of the track’s race dates is moved to Las Vegas. NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports executives cannot see you sitting on your sofa.
Of all the e-mails and comments I receive from writing this column and from my website, a significant percentage are from people who claim NASCAR is getting away from its Southern roots and needs to stop trying to go national with what is essentially a regional sport. Well, here is your chance. A track which produces great racing sits in the heart of Dixie. Atlanta is calling. Will the fans of traditional stock car venues answer the call?
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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