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Gearing up for NASCAR's return

By Michael Davis

As thousands of race fans invade the city of Hampton, officials at Atlanta Motor Speedway are getting ready for what turns a tiny town into a bulging race Mecca.

The Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 Winston Cup race Sunday will turn Hampton into the fifth largest city in the state for about two days, said director of events Brandon Hutchison.

From Friday until Sunday, he said racing action would be almost nonstop.

"If you got here at noon (Friday), when the gates open, there would be cars on the track from 1:40 p.m. until approximately 10:30 p.m." he said.

With crowds expected to reach 250,000 people throughout the course of the weekend, officials at the track say there will still be plenty of seating available, even for Sunday's Winston Cup race.

"We're expecting over 120,000 for Sunday only," said Angela Revell, communications manager at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The 1.54-mile Super-speedway is capable of seating 124,000 in its permanent grandstand seats.

And though reserved camping is already full, unreserved camping is still available for $30 per space.

With qualifying for the cup race starting at 7:05 p.m. Friday, Hutchison said this will be the first time cup drivers have "qualified under the lights."

The Georgia State Patrol met with Department of Transportation and racetrack officials to hash out their traffic-control plans.

"Friday night, we're not sure what kind of crowd we're going to get because of the nighttime qualifying," said Troop D commander Capt. Ed Alverson of the state patrol.

"Also, because of the time change Saturday night it's going to get dark sooner on Sunday evening and that's dangerous for our men standing in the intersections," he said.

Starting around 7:30 a.m. Sunday, the GSP and DOT will be rerouting all traffic on U.S. Highway 19/41 into the racetrack.

Until the race begins at 12:30, all traffic will flow to the track from both north and south of AMS.

After the race, all traffic on Highway 19/41 will flow away from the track, said Alverson.

"Last March, we were able to open it about 8 or 8:30 that night," he said. "And all reports that we've got said that there was less traffic in downtown Hampton than in quite some time."