By Michael Davis
As race day approaches, Atlanta Motor Speedway is getting set for the biggest sporting event in metro Atlanta.
The weekend of racing, Oct. 24-26, will draw thousands of fans from all over the country, said Angela Revell, a spokeswoman for AMS.
"When they come here, they have to stay here, they have to eat here, they shop here and they spend money," said Revell.
The two races at AMS add more than $455 million to the Atlanta economy, she said. And the staff at the track is already getting set for the big weekend.
As drivers test their cars on the track this week, AMS is "getting in to race mode," said Revell.
"They're doing testing this week because next week, we'll be preparing the track for the weekend," she said.
Race weekend will be packed with events to supplement the Oct. 26 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500.
Revell said that more than 250,000 people would move in and out of the Speedway throughout the weekend. Major events include the nighttime qualifying on Oct. 24 where drivers will be racing for the starting position for the Winston Cup race, and the Busch series race on Oct. 25, the junior-league of NASCAR racing.
"We have 124,000 grandstand seats plus the infield and the suites. And we can bring in more grandstand seats if we need to, but we haven't yet," said Revell.
The biannual NASCAR races at AMS account for 51 percent of all the revenue generated by all Atlanta area sports combined and reportedly, some of the heaviest traffic congestion the city of Hampton ever sees.
But some local businesses are looking to see a boost from the crowds.
"In this sluggish economy, the race is a blessing," said Jim Ismail, the manager of a Quickshop convenience store on East Main Street in Hampton. He said his business improves during the weekends when thousands of fans pack into Hampton.
"We're so happy when the race comes and we love the people," he said.
But Hampton resident Sue Robertson said she tries to stay home during the weekend.
"A lot of local people don't like to get out because of the traffic," she said.
But with 870 acres surrounding the track, parking and camping are usually in good supply, Revell said. All AMS parking lots are free and camping grounds range from $30 to $90, she said.
About a dozen drivers are testing their cars this week on the 1.54-mile Super Speedway.
Bobby Hamilton Jr.'s crew is getting his No. 25 Winston Cup car ready for his second Winston Cup race and hoping to get up the speed they need for a good qualifying time.
"We're fixing to change over into race mode," said Hamilton's crew chief Harold Holly.
After a successful career of Busch racing, Hamilton and his crew are trying to move up to the NASCAR big leagues of Winston Cup.
"The biggest thing we're working on right now is the gear combination. A cup car is a lot different than a Busch car," Holly said. "Cup cars are heavier and have 100 more horse-power."
Aside from the races and qualifying, AMS will be hosting a charity walk following the Oct. 25 Busch race. Fans who have registered will have the opportunity to walk around the track with drivers after the race and meet some of their favorite racers. The fee is $20 and can be paid online at www.speedwaycharities.org.
Other events will include a fly-over by the U.S. Air Force during the Oct. 26 pre-race show and country music star Mark Wills singing the National Anthem.
"People don't come to the race just to see the race," Revell said.