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NASCAR highlights Labor Day weekend

 

By Alex Welch
Assistant Editor 

  What used to be a biannual occurrence has now become one main Labor Day weekend event in Hampton. NASCAR returned to Henry County last week, bringing all the industry’s high-profile racing names and thousands of fans to Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS).

  Fans began setting up their weekend spots well before any racing was underway. RVs and campers lined the infield of AMS, filled with race fans who planned on calling the track home for the weekend.

The field of 40 cars warms up around the track on Saturday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway before the start of the Great Clips/Grit Chips 300.                                Photo by Alex Welch

  Matt Russell, a resident of Cumming, traveled to Hampton with his father and several friends for their first trip camping out in the infield for a NASCAR weekend. Russell said he’s been to races at AMS before, but staying at the track in an RV was a whole new experience.

 “A buddy of mine, his aunt and uncle weren’t able to come down, so they told us we could have their spot,” Russell said. “It’s great because you really find the diehard fans here. Here you’re in for the long haul with the financial investment you put in. It’s $250 a spot, and then the RV cost under $2,000, but some of the coaches are $12,000-$15,000.”

  Russell said they didn’t have an RV, so they called Star Coaches, Inc. to rent one for the weekend. The company brought the RV to the speedway and set everything up for Russell and his group. He said they arrived on Thursday and planned to stay throughout the entire weekend.

  Patricia Hendrix, a co-owner of a trucking company in Claxton, was also trying out the infield camping life for the first time. She said she and her husband have camped out for the Daytona 500, but they were on the outside of the track. Hendrix prefers the infield side of the action.

  “I like it better. We have our own place here, and this way I can go in if I want during the races,” Hendrix said. “My husband’s uncle and his family are in the RV next to us. It’s kind of a family thing. We just cook and enjoy ourselves.”

  Hendrix said she and her husband took time off from work to visit the speedway. The couple stayed until Monday as part of their Labor Day trip, like many others staying at AMS.

  AMS holds around 125,000 people, not including the multiple teams, media personnel and sponsors visiting the track. The influx of visitors from out of town can create more traffic, but Hampton Mayor Chris Moore said he welcomes the race weekend.

  “It brings a lot of energy to the area. Most people like it. There are a few folks for whom traffic is a concern. But law enforcement and state troopers are out there, and they have a plan. They should be able to get everyone in and out safely and efficiently.”

  More said some of the local business owners were optimistic about seeing new business from out-of-town customers over the weekend.

  “All the people who come to enjoy the race are there for more than one day. We have a lot of shops and stores that they can come see and find out why Hampton is Henry County’s best kept secret,” Moore said.

Pit Row stays busy as drivers, race teams and fans prepare for the Great Clips Grit Chips 300.                   Photo by Alex Welch

  The economic impact of the race weekend on Henry County is substantial, according to Henry County Chamber of Commerce Director of Tourism Laura Luker. She said the revenue numbers were difficult to measure, but the estimated figures showed around $22 million spent in Henry County during race weekend last year. Luker said Atlanta Motor Speedway is an important piece to the county’s tax dollars.

  “They pay such a high tax rate, which means the surrounding businesses aren’t having to pick up the slack. More county services would have to be cut without it [Atlanta Motor Speedway],” Luker said. “The health of the speedway is important to the health of the county.”

  The NASCAR Nationwide Series headlined Saturday’s events at AMS with the Great Clips/Grit Chips 300.  Kevin Harvick led 132 of the 195 laps that night, holding off pole-winner Kyle Busch to claim his first victory in the series this year.

  Busch finished as the runner-up for the fifth time in the Nationwide Series at Atlanta. While Saturday night was a disappointment, he responded by winning the main event of the weekend.

  The 325-lap AdvoCare 500 was Busch’s 28th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of his career. He beat runner-up Joey Logano by 0.74 seconds on the final lap to cruise to victory lane.

  “I wasn’t happy with the race car at all at the beginning of the race, but the guys made some great calls and got us some great adjustments to get us back up front,” Busch said in his post-race interview.

  One of the most polarizing drivers in the sport, Busch was greeted by an ample amount of cheers and boos during his introduction at AMS. With the win, Busch clinched one of 10 spots in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Busch failed to make the cut for the Chase last season.

  Fans at AMS witnessed 28 lead changes among 13 drivers on Sunday night, along with four accidents and a few other cautions that resulted in a yellow flag for 47 laps.

  NASCAR returns to Henry County in 2014 for another Labor Day weekend of night racing. For more information on events at AMS, visit atlantamotorspeedway.com.

 

 

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