By Trina Trice
Frances Goss is getting off the fast ride she's been on for almost 40 years.
Goss, a resident of Hampton, recently retired from the Atlanta Motor Speedway where she was a ticket manager.
"I've spent the last 38 years having fun, and by retiring I get a chance to expand my horizons for having fun," Goss said. "I'm sad to be leaving everyone here, but the plan now is to have a little more time to enjoy life and my family."
Goss started her career at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1965, five years after the structure was built, when it was a 1.5-mile track known as Atlanta International Raceway. She was 26 years old and starting the second job she'd ever had. She found the job through the unemployment office.
To put it in perspective, when Goss started at the racetrack, Lyndon B. Johnson was president. A new house cost $40,000. A gallon of gas cost 24 cents. A loaf of bread cost 21 cents. A postage stamp was 5 cents.
During her time there, Goss witnessed floods, blizzards, tornadoes and fires that ravaged the track. She saw the track fall into bankruptcy, before new owners saved it.
"When I first came here, women weren't even allowed in the pits," Goss said. "That's obviously changed, but I've still never been down there. During races, I'm in the ticket office, helping fans and selling tickets. I'm a worker bee, I guess."
After almost four decades, Goss has been considered a fixture of Atlanta Motor Speedway as its high banks and grandstands.
"Frances Goss has been a big part of this track's transformation over the years," said Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway President. "Frances always has the fans' best interests in mind. She knows what they need and makes sure they get it."
Called Miss Frances by many, Goss saw cash replaced by credit cards and, even more recently, by Internet transactions.
When a computer problem nearly halted ticket sales at one point this year, Goss thought about the earlier days.
She remembers when a power outage wouldn't have stopped ticket sales. In those days, race fans would walk up to the window just hours before the race and pay cash.
Back then, the Weaver Grandstand and a wooden bleacher with 10,000 seats were the only seating options for fans. Those left without seats spread their blankets along the dirt banks where grandstands are now.
"This track's gone through too many changes to name since 1965," Goss said. "It's gone from a paved circle in the mud to one of the premier racing facilities in the nation. The track has grown up since that time, and racing has, too."
In 1975, Goss and her team of ticket office workers sold more than 47,000 tickets. She thought it was a lot, then. Before she retired, Goss was in charge of more than 124,000 seats to two NASCAR weekends a year.
"It's amazing how the fans have changed," she said. "Television has done wonders for this sport. It's not just about men who like cars anymore. The biggest fan base right now seems to be 4- and 5-year-olds. These preschoolers can name every driver, tell you their number and their sponsor."
Goss has made friends along the way, one of them being NASCAR President Mike Helton, former general manager of Atlanta Motor Speedway in the mid-1980s.
When Helton learned of Goss' retirement, he sent her a letter of thanks for all she had done for the sport and for him personally.
Goss chuckled when she thought of a story involving Helton.
When Helton was general manager, Goss and Helton and a few others were raising cows in the infield, she said. At that time, Helton was living in a little apartment in the turn 3 tower.
"I remember that Mike used to like to go jogging, and so he was out doing that one night around 10 p.m.,"Goss said. "All of a sudden from the darkness, one of the cows bellows a real deep ?Moo.' The noise scared him so much he was about paralyzed."
On her final day at the office, Goss told stories, keeping her hands busy tearing tickets.
"I have mixed emotions, but I feel at peace," Goss said to her former co-workers. "This is the right time. I've had a lot of fun here, and everybody here is like family. I hope you all will miss me just a little when I'm gone."
Goss plans to spend some of her free time taking care of her mother in Zebulon.