By Michael Davis
Expecting as many as 250,000 race fans to converge on the grounds of Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend, traffic and track officials expect their traffic plans to work at least as well as during the last race, if not better.
Atlanta Motor Speedway officials met earlier this month with state traffic engineers and local law enforcement to go over how best to handle the influx of motorists to the track.
Some changes to the layout of the grounds around the track, AMS spokeswoman Angela Revell said, should help get motorists in and out of the speedway area a little quicker.
A reconfigured parking lot entrance on Speedway Boulevard, on the north side of the raceway, should help motorists park more easily, she said. And a parking lot near the main gate that has historically been one of the last to empty on Sunday evenings has been mostly turned into a family-friendly campground.
"That was created directly because a lot of people have written us in the past that ?kind of felt a little out of place," next to what can be a sometimes rowdy crowd, Revell said.
Those improvements, she said, along with measures that have been taken during the past several races, should improve notoriously congested traffic.
"We're hoping this goes even smoother this weekend than it has in the past," she said.
Many race fans traditionally take U.S. Highway 19/41 to the raceway from the north and the south sides of the track. The Sunday of the major race event, the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500, the Georgia State Patrol institutes what they call a counter flow on the four-lane divided highway.
As traffic flowing toward the raceway Sunday gets heavier, lanes heading away from the track are reversed allowing for all lanes of the road to point to the track.
When the race is finished, all lanes lead away from the track.
Georgia State Patrol spokesman Trooper First Class Larry Schnall said traffic leading to the track begins to get congested between 8:30 and 9 a.m. on race day and after the race, "it's snarled as late as 8:30 to 9 p.m.," he said.
Race fans take several other state highways to get to the track during the weekend.
Revell said interstate exit 216 in McDonough is popular, as is exit 212 in Locust Grove, the Hampton-Locust Grove Road exit.
Hampton Police Chief Bud Smith said exit 218, Ga. Highway 20/81, is popular as well.
On race day, however, traffic is detoured at that exit to Ga. Highway 81. Ga. 81 connects with U.S. Highway 19/41 north of the track.
Smith encouraged race fans using Ga. Highway 20 to get to the track Friday and Saturday for events, to be mindful of the construction under way between McDonough and Hampton. The road winds sharply in some areas as crews work to construct additional lanes.
"People need to be alert to those detours," he said.
Revell said the best route to take varies, "depending on which one gets congested first," but encouraged fans to come early.
And patience when leaving the raceway can calm drivers' frustration.
"Those people who have driven a long way and have a long way to get home, I certainly feel for them," she said. "But it happens at every sporting event where you have a large crowd."