Viewpoints: Why AMS lost a race date

In the early years of stock-car racing, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett and David Pearson climbed to the top of their sport by winning on tracks large and small throughout the South. In recent weeks, each was asked one simple question: Why do they think Bruton Smith and NASCAR decided to take a race from Atlanta?

Allison

I'm really surprised about that. Atlanta has been one of the really great race tracks on the circuit for all these years. It's a place where I got to win a few times and had some really good runs. The fans seem to really enjoy it. You know, the modern world is all about doing new, bigger and better and greater things. And I guess that's what they're trying to do.

Certainly this was a Southeast sport to being with, but it no longer is with tracks all over the country and now tracks being built even in other countries. There are parts of the world that talk about, hopefully, having a NASCAR race. It's become a bigger area or arena.

Jarrett

It obviously wasn't a big surprise since they haven't had sellouts there in a long time. And it's very unfortunate because they have a great race track. It's one of the finest facilities I think in the country. But for some reason the fans have just not embraced racing there like they have in some other markets, especially when you look at the number of people that you have to draw from.

It's sitting right in the heart of what should be NASCAR country. But for some reason, they just haven't embraced it that much. So, no, it was really not that big of a surprise to see them move the date.

I think the one thing that has happened over the years is the fact that the older fans were accustomed to seeing drivers who, basically, grew up in the southeastern part of the country. And now there are not too many of them in the sport and certainly not many of them that are running up front and contending for wins and championships. That probably has some effect.

I grew up in North Carolina, and I love my state. But when North Wilkesboro and Rockingham went away, it certainly was devastating to those communities. But it was better overall for the sport because at that time, when they went away, there were 30 races on the schedule and there were six of them, or 20 percent, that were within a 100-mile radius of each other. And for the sport to become national it doesn't need that concentration in any part of the country, regardless of where it is. I know it was sad for those communities to see those races go away, but for the sport to grow and have appeal nationwide, it has to be spread out more.

As drivers retired, and in the case of Dale Earnhardt where we lost him, that was a big blow to the sport in the southeastern part of the country.

Pearson

It’s surprising to me. Atlanta is bigger than Kentucky, as far as that goes, as far as the amount of people. They are undoubtedly going to make more money of out it because, you know, NASCAR will do anything for a dollar. They’re just making money.

Will there be backlash from the fans? Well, there ought to be. I’m surprised they took a date away from Darlington in 2005. But you can’t ever tell what they might do. If they think they can make more money doing that, they’ll do that.

Petty

Atlanta got off to a bad start. It rained six to seven times the first 12 to 14 races they ran. And then it went bankrupt and all that. You would think there would be enough time to overcome all of that. But it just never did. And they always had decent races there, but it never just clicked in.

I think you run one race a year and run it on Labor Day. I think is a real smart, smart move, especially in the South. I always looked at some of these race tracks, [and] if they drawed 50,000 people each race, well they’re going to draw 75,000 for one race, and they’re going to make more money in the long run because you don’t have to pay the purses and you don’t have to pay the help. From a financial standpoint, it looks to me like that’s the way they needed to go.

Compiled by Jeff Hood for the AJC