Gimmick or real racing: Atlanta provided exciting racing

I have been around racing all of my life. I got started in racing watching my uncle race on the short tracks of East Tennessee in the 1970’s. It was a thrill to go see him race nearly every week.

My first exposure to NASCAR racing was in 1975 at Atlanta. It was called Atlanta International Raceway at the time. My dad’s best friend from high school lived in the area and invited us to come down. We made the trip and my eyes were wide open as I witnessed a big 1.533-mile track, something much larger than the 1/3-mile and 1/2-mile tracks I was used to. The speeds were unbelievable. I was hooked.

I was able to visit Atlanta three more times after that as I pestered my dad every year to take me. Atlanta was my favorite track until I finally made my first visit to Bristol. But Atlanta was a close second.

When Bruton Smith reconfigured the track for the fall race in 1997, I was not a fan of the move. We already had Charlotte that had a similar shape. Atlanta was unique. But as the years went on and the asphalt began to wear, it was one of my favorite tracks to watch. Seeing the cars race top or bottom while sideways something I found close to dirt racing.

Two years ago, Marcus Smith decided Atlanta needed something different. Attendance has been poor at the track for the last 15 years. Smith came up with the idea to increase the banking and make the track another superspeedway – another pack racing track like Daytona or Talladega.

I used to love the racing at Daytona and Talladega when the cars could get a little more spread out. Over the years, NASCAR used the rules to keep all the cars in tight packs. Those races produced some exciting finishes. But the other laps were just high-speed jockeying sessions in anticipation of “The Big One”. I’m not a fan of that style of racing.

I took the racing at the new Atlanta Motor Speedway with a grain of salt. It was interesting to see. But the Next Gen car has been so good on the 1.5-mile tracks I had hoped they’d stick with the Atlanta of old for a bit longer.

As the asphalt begins to wear, I thought the racing might get a bit more interesting. I watched with some anticipation, more than I have the previous four under this configuration. Was I surprised. The racing was fantastic and the finish was unbelievable. There seemed to be more fans in the stands than recent years. It appears fans are approving the new Atlanta.

The question that comes up in my mind is this type of racing just a gimmick or real racing? The part of me that says it’s a gimmick is it takes a special rules package to keep the cars close in order to produce a lot of passing and hopefully close finishes like we saw on Sunday. The part of me that says it’s real racing is the cars can get a little bit spread out unlike Daytona or Talladega. There is some skill involved other than holding it wide open lap after lap.

Regardless of what anyone thinks, it looks like Atlanta Motor Speedway has hit on something. It will be interesting to see how ticket sales are for the second race, which happens to be the first race of the playoffs. This storyline will be continued.

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