By Billy Corriher
With hundreds of thousands of race fans converging around Atlanta Motor Speedway, officials are taking extra measures to keep fans safe.
In addition to normal security, officials have planned for a military plane to fly over the race track.
Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain said that at one point, there will also be a Delta jet flying over the race at a relatively low altitude of 12,000 feet. Normally, a plane approaching the airport at that point would be 15,000 to 20,000 feet high.
Partain said Clayton County resident might be accustomed to planes flying that low as they approach Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but anyone who sees the plane flying low between Jackson Lake, where the fly-over will begin, and the speedway may be concerned.
"We need to for those persons between Jackson Lake and Atlanta Motor Speedway to know that this plane is not in distress," he said.
Delta spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said the fly-over will start around 1 p.m. and would be announced beforehand.
"The audience will be well-prepared," she said.
Despite increased security amidst growing terrorism concerns, NASCAR fans said nothing would be on their mind this weekend, except the race.
A regular of the racing scene, Jane Thomas traveled from North Augusta, S.C., for the race.
"I say if they're going to blow things up, they're going to blow things up," Thomas said. "What are you going to do? Stay home all of your life?"
She said she has seen more police officers patrolling the area, but isn't worried about terrorism, just enjoying the race.
Sue Jester will also be at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend, but not to watch the race.
Jester and her friends sell NASCAR merchandise to raise money for the Clayton County Golden Kiwanis. She's been working the races for almost 10 years, and she said this year looks to be a busy one.
"I've never seen the infield this full for a March race," she said.
The group is expecting to raise a lot of money this year, and some of the proceeds will go to buy books for kindergarten students at Kilpatrick Elementary.
"We can make anywhere from $800 to $2,000, depending on the race," Jester said.
Though she has to work long hours and sometimes bear nasty weather, Jester said the group has a lot of fun with the race fans.
"We've got friends (in the infield) who bring us food and bring us heaters if it's cold," she said. "If I didn't have fun, I wouldn't be down here."
Mitzi Carr, of the Henry County High School band boosters, said she also enjoys selling NASCAR merchandise at the races.
The profits from the merchandise at Carr's booth go towards buying and repairing instruments for the marching band.
"This is one of our real important money-makers," she said. "We're in desperate need of funds for instruments."
Rose Anderson, president of the band boosters, said they've been selling racing souvenirs for over 10 years.
"If it's sunshine, we'll do good," she said. "If it's raining, race fans don't really want to spend money."
The band booster will have lots of potential customers this weekend, as officials at the speedway are expecting between 200,000 and 250,000 people for the race. The heightened interest could stem from the first Craftsman Truck Series race being held at the speedway.
And the huge influx of race fans means big business for Clayton and Henry Counties.
Kay Pippin, executive director of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, said the race produces more revenue than any other sporting event in Georgia.
"When people spend the night in our hotels, eat in our restaurants? they're certainly leaving some sales tax behind for our local needs," she said.
Pippin said the entire region, within 50 to 90 miles of the race track, sees a boost from the race.
"It's a great weekend not only for Henry County, but the whole state of Georgia," she said. "Any boost helps when you're in a recession period."
Pippin said the race gives the area a lot of publicity and attracts a broad spectrum of people, including potential investors and your average race fan.
Ed Millen and his wife, Kathy, drove to the speedway from South Carolina on a whim Friday morning.
"We just decided last week that we'd come down," he said.
The Millens, who are both retired, were holding up a sign off of U.S. Highway 19/41 asking for tickets.
"When we heard they were having a truck race, too, we figured we had a shot at getting tickets to one of them," Millen said.
The couple said they often go to races in Charlotte and have been race fans for years.
"It keeps you on the edge of your seat right to the end," Millen said.
And Atlanta Motor Speedway is an especially fast track, which makes for some interesting races, he said.
"When you think about how fast and how dangerous it is for the drivers, it's just wild," he said. "There's no other sport like it."
Jonesboro resident Julie Cook sang the national anthem before the NASCAR drivers qualified on Friday.
Cook, who sings at First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, said she enjoyed her first trip to the drivers' pit area.
"It was pretty noisy down in the pit," she said. "But it was really exciting to see all the fans up in the stands cheering the national anthem."
Staff writer Greg Gelpi contributed to this story.