By Michael Davis

Track officials at Atlanta Motor Speedway expect between 200,000 and 250,000 race fans to pass over the grounds of the super speedway this weekend, but hundreds are already here.

Christy and Dean Blanton came to the race prepared. And the McDonough couple, along with some friends from Warner Robbins, made sure they got settled early.

Staked out along the Richard Petty Boulevard side of AMS, the Blantons and their friends Michael and Kim Haramut pulled in and set up camp Thursday but their site had been selected on Saturday.

"This is serious business because if you don't stake your spot, you may not get it," Christy Blanton said.

Reclining in folding chairs under a temporary awning, the group had already set up their "burn bucket" and stocked it with fire- wood. The bottom of a 55-gallon drum painted orange with the number 20 all around, this would be their stove, oven and morning coffeepot until Sunday night.

"We've got enough stuff for a week, but we're only here for four days," said Michael Haramut. But, he said, should the race be rained out Sunday, they were prepared to stay until Monday.

Their first year camping at the race, the couples said that this was the time to start. "We just got tired of waiting in line," said Christy Blanton.

"We all like to camp so this just seemed like a natural mix," Michael Haramut agreed.

Preparing a low-country boil of shrimp, crab, sausage, corn and potatoes, Haramut pointed to wood piles next to the tent, on a trailer and in the back of a pickup truck. "We're here for the whole weekend," he said.

Jean Haas and her husband Jim are by now experienced race-campers.

Driving from their Columbus-area home for every race since 1998, they said they never miss a race – an event that turns into a family gathering.

"There will eventually be about 30 people here," Jean said, all sleeping on their campground of six lots at AMS.

Jean said she became a NASCAR fan after some prodding by her husband, a life-long race fan.

"He eventually conned me into coming and I'm stuck with it," she said.

Taking a campground space near the same area every year, Jim Haas said he's seen some unusual occurrences over the years.

"You see all kinds of stuff. Two years ago, there was this guy, I guess he was drinking too much," he said.

"I got up and looked and I guess he drove his truck into the lake."