BUTLER: Atlanta’s Outgoing Track Surface Will Be Cherished

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Atlanta Motor Speedway’s weathered surface will take its final bow following the conclusion of Sunday’s Folds of Honor/QuikTrip 500. (Jeremy Thompson photo)

HAMPTON, Ga. — The last time Atlanta Motor Speedway was repaved, Bill Clinton had just started his second term as President of the United States, ‘Wannabe’ by the Spice Girls was a No. 1 hit, ‘Titanic’ was the highest grossing film in America and Chase Elliott was only two years old.

Atlanta has long been overdue for a repave, but it’s safe to say the fans or drivers aren’t ready. Many have expressed their love and support for the aged track, which hasn’t been repaved since 1997, making it the second oldest track surface on the NASCAR schedule.

The track has produced amazing racing the past few years, but rumors were floating around that a repave was near. Finally, on Jan. 3, speedway officials announced their plans for a complete repave effective immediately after this weekend’s QuikTrip Folds of Honor 500.

The new asphalt surface will be laid over the current surface, with the current 1.5 mile quad oval layout and 24 degree banked turns staying the same.

As drivers and fans alike prepare for the final race on Atlanta before the repave, Dale Earnhardt Jr expressed his sympathy about the situation over Twitter.

Drivers like Earnhardt understand that a track surface this special doesn’t come around often. Whether it’s the tire fall-off, the multiple-groove racing, the sensation of speed, or the several bumps and bounces that give the track character; one thing is for sure — Atlanta is a special place.

The track has been ‘cooked to perfection’ underneath the torrid Georgia sun. Every rock, every bump, every skid mark … every square inch of that track tells a story.

This track tends to play favorites to drivers who are comfortable with their cars being sideways and out of control, and it will eat you up in a hurry if you aren’t on top of your game.

If anything, I’d call it the ‘blue collar’ track of NASCAR. This is a track surface that will push man and machine to the breaking point. Drivers are constantly sawing on the steering wheel, working hard to search for grip.

Nothing ever comes easy at Atlanta.

Not restarts, not passing, not even practice sessions are simple for drivers to wrap their heads around. The track is plain and simply tricky.

However, the track hasn’t always been this challenging.

In the youthful years of the track, Atlanta was often deemed the fastest speedway on the circuit. Drivers could run their machines flat out through the corners, a feat not often accomplished at other tracks that weren’t bound by dreaded restrictor plates. Handling and grip were the least of anyone’s concerns.

The blazing fast reputation quickly took a back seat to the fantastic finishes the track had a reputation for producing.

Etched into every NASCAR fan’s memories are images of Labonte and Earnhardt in 2000, Harvick and Gordon in 2001, Johnson and Edwards in 2005; each of whom were battling side-by-side for the win. Of course, you can’t leave out Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon’s battle of the titans in 2011, ultimately resulting in Gordon’s 85th career win.

First-time winners have been no slouch here either, as Jerry Nadeau, Kevin Harvick, and Carl Edwards each have made names for themselves at Atlanta.

With all the amazing races and moments the track has endured, it has also changed greatly over the course of its lifetime.

The smooth black asphalt that was once prevalent has turned grey, rough and bumpy. Every inch of the concrete walls are now lined with SAFER Barriers. Along with countless other details, we’ve been able to see Atlanta grow and blossom into the masterpiece it is today.

The racing itself has blossomed nicely. The groove has widened, and it’s not uncommon to see drivers searching every racing line imaginable throughout the course of a run.

Atlanta Motor Speedway has aged beautifully, but it is time to move on.

While we are all sad to say goodbye to the track surface that has brought so many great memories, the time will come to make new memories with a revamped track surface next year.

So sit back, relax, enjoy the action and take it all in this weekend, because a special track surface like this likely won’t come around for another 20 years.

The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, the Performance Motorsports Network, Scorpion Radio Group, their sponsors or other contributors.

 

About the Writer

Ethan “Speedy” Butler is Race Chaser Online’s Plains Region correspondent, residing in West Burlington, Iowa — just down from Knoxville Raceway, the ‘Sprint Car Capital of the World’ — and aiding in the site’s sprint car databanks from ‘The Heartland of America’.

Butler has always had a passion for auto racing, going back to his younger years “playing with toy cars and trying to figure out how to get them to go faster”. He is both an avid dirt track and NASCAR fan, who spends his time away from home at one of the many local dirt tracks in the area, out on the lake fishing, or in the shop shaping up his next woodworking project. In 2015, he spent time as a marketing intern and flagman at 34 Raceway, one of the charter tracks for the FVP National Sprint League founded by Tod Quiring.

Butler is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in marketing at the University of Northern Iowa.

Email Ethan at: [email protected]

Follow on Twitter: @SpeedyButler

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