The ‘New Atlanta’ is what NASCAR and SMI Envisioned–A Better Race!

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – JULY 10: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 10, 2022 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The ‘New Atlanta is what NASCAR and SMI envisioned–a better race! But what about the fans? This commentary gives readers fuel for thought. NOTE: Commentary delayed due to illness and recovery issues.

After the end of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway NASCAR and track owners, Speedway Motorsports Inc. embarked on a multi-million dollar renovation of the facility.  The worn-out surface was repaved.  More critically, the entire track was re-profiled.  The banking in the turns increased from 24 to 28 degrees, and the turns were narrowed by more than ten feet. 

Early in the 2022 season, NASCAR announced that Atlanta would use an engine power and aerodynamic package similar to Daytona and Talladega. In essence, Atlanta Motor Speedway is now NASCAR’s third superspeedway race, despite the track’s 1.5-mile length. A stark contrast to the 2.5 and 2.66-mile lengths for Daytona and Talladega respectively.

The ‘New Atlanta’ is what NASCAR and SMI Envisioned–A Better Race!

After the two NASCAR Cup Series races at Atlanta this year, as well as Xfinity races, it’s clear that NASCAR and SMI got exactly what they were looking for.  The new Atlanta Motor Speedway now features tight pack racing, drafting, and TV-friendly big wrecks.  Dale Earnhardt Jr even jokingly referred to the venue as “Atlanta Superspeedway” during the NBC broadcast. However, he left it to the drivers as to whether they will speak of Atlanta in the same superspeedway breath as Daytona and Talladega.

Atlanta put on a Big Party, but the Crowd was a No Show

The big question for those watching on TV was “where are the fans?”  The stands were nearly empty in some cases or at best had empty spots thoughout. Social media posts from those at the track also give the impression that attendance was poor in comparison to the spring race.  But why?  NASCAR and SMI had done so much to benefit the fans!

The track went through a massive reconstruction that changed the way of racing.  Atlanta has been on the schedule for decades, but it is effectively a brand new track. The track is offering the advantage of novelty and newness to draw in fans.

NASCAR fans seem to enjoy superspeedway-style races.  Daytona and Talladega regularly pack the stands, especially for the marquee Daytona 500.

Even NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver was Enough to Encourage Fans to Attend

Atlanta also has the advantage of NASCAR’s most popular driver, Chase Elliott from Dawsonville, GA.  NBC and NASCAR media took the time to promote the Elliott connection to the local area.  Chase Elliott is on a hot streak as the NASCAR Cup Series points leader and a strong threat to win going into the weekend.  Elliott backed up all the hype by winning both stages and the race.

One potential reason for the lack of fans at the 1.5-mile Georgia track is that Talladega is only a bit more than two hours west of Atlanta.  Do the local fans just prefer the full-size superspeedway experience?

What also May have Discouraged Fans—the Weather

In various social media discussions, the weather was cited as a reason why fans stayed home.  Besides the threat of afternoon thunderstorms, it is oppressively hot in the mid-south this time of year.  Daytime highs are well into the 90s, with heat indexes at triple digits.

Daytona was running its second race throughout the July Fourth weekend.  It was brutally hot to sit in the stands for those races.  In 1998 the track installed lights and moved the July race to a nighttime event. The change improved fan comfort.

Similarly, Talladega ran its second race in late July or early August in the same oppressive heat. For 1997 and beyond the date was moved to October.  Again, the change made the race much more enjoyable for the fans in the stands.

Improving the Atlanta Experience

SMI President Marcus Smith says hopes to attract a $1 billion casino and entertainment complex near the speedway. The added attraction may entice fans to make the 40-minute drive from Atlanta to the 1.5-mile superspeedway track in Hampton, GA.

Atlanta Motor Speedway is fully equipped with lights.  So, NASCAR might consider moving the second Atlanta date to a night race. Although recent trends are moving away from night events, in the interest of fan comfort, an exception may be in order.

Moving the Atlanta date to later in the season is also an option. But, the idea of a later date could be a tricky choice.  The playoff schedule is packed with a wide variety of tracks, and putting another wildcard superspeedway-style race might be an unpopular move. 

The ‘New Atlanta’ is Entertaining!

Despite the low attendance for the July event, the ‘New Atlanta’ gave fans two wildly entertaining races this season.  The ‘New Atlanta’ is what NASCAR and SMI envisioned–a better race!  Now the focus is to attract fans back to Atlanta Motor Speedway.