Runners take their turns at racetrack

By Greg Gelpi

A florist and amateur athlete had the winning time at the Atlanta Motor Speedway Saturday.

"Tell everyone that the flower guy beat them," Buddy Clark said.

With the sun baking the speedway's track, Clark blazed the way at almost 12 mph to win the 5k. He was among more than 300 to participate in the first Pacemaker 5000 run at the speedway.

With tires squealing in the infield, runners chugged around the speedway in a benefit to raise money for cardiology equipment at Henry Medical Center.

"It was cool," said Clark, who set a personal record with his time of 15:40. "I'm a big NASCAR fan."

The Fort Valley runner said circling the track was just like the NASCAR drivers do when they circle the speedway, except that it was "about 160 mph slower than they do."

Henry Medical Center is undergoing a $60 million expansion project that includes upgrading cardiology services.

About 10 people had signed up for the Pacemaker 5000 two weeks ago, said Jeff Cooper, vice president of development for Henry Medical Center and executive director of the Henry Medical Center Foundation. But as of race time, more than 300 had registered to run.

Cooper said that President Bill Clinton's bout with heart problems has "certainly brought a lot more awareness to how serious the disease is."

Not only did the race attract fans of running, it also attracted many auto racing fans.

Greg Olson of McDonough ran the one-kilometer event of the Pacemaker 5000 with his son, whose eighth birthday is today

"He wanted to do anything with NASCAR for his birthday," Olson said.

Henry County schools Superintendent Jack Parish, who ran the five-kilometer race, said he is a big supporter of Atlanta Motor Speedway.

"I remember coming years and years ago with my dad," Parish, who was his age division, said. "The cars make it look easier."

Lt. Jeff McHenry of the Clayton County Fire Department agreed with Parish about the difference between drivers and runners circling the track.

"The track is a lot bigger than it looks on TV," the paramedic on Engine 4 in Riverdale said. "It looked like it was never going to end."

The Pacemaker 5000 coincided with the speedway's open house. Visitors to the speedway participated in an array of events, including the opportunity to drive their own vehicles around the track.