NASCAR president surveys damage at Atlanta speedway

By Michael Davis

While he has never before seen such extensive damage at a racetrack as what was suffered by Atlanta Motor Speedway during recent storms, NASCAR President, and former AMS manager, Mike Helton said Wednesday he's confident the Oct. 28-30 race weekend will go on as scheduled.

Helton surveyed the damage Wednesday, three weeks after a tornado ripped across the grounds of AMS destroying fences, toppling scoring towers, blowing out condominiums and ripping up roofs. Initial estimates put the damage from the July 6 tornado at about $40 million.

While he has seen tornadoes blow through Talladega Superspeedway in Ala., there was "never this much damage in this concentration around the racetrack," Helton told reporters.

But even as he, and track officials, are confident they will be ready for the end of October, "there are no guarantees about anything," Helton said. "But there's nothing, in talking with [AMS President and General Manager] Ed [Clark] after the tornado hit here three weeks ago, and being here today and seeing the racing surface and garage area and things, the things we need to run a race, they're there."

Before the tornado earlier this month, spawned by the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy, track officials were already working on parking lots and access roads in preparation for the September opening of a rerouted Ga. Highway 20. The state Department of Transportation project will convert the two-lane into four lanes from Interstate 75 west toward the raceway.

Forty acres of campgrounds are also being graded on the north side of the track.

The biggest challenge to getting the raceway ready for the 124,000 fans that could potentially be seated around the track for the Oct. 30 Nextel Cup race is prioritizing the cleanup, Clark said.

"You have to understand racetracks and racetrack operators - if we had four weeks to get it done, we'd get it done in four weeks. If we had three months, we'd get it done in three months. If we had nine months, like I was telling Mike earlier today, we'd still finish the same day and that's the Thursday of race week," Clark said.

But a target-date of Oct. 14 has been set to "have everything totally back in place," he said.

Fans could also expect a few new additions to the $24 million, 1.54-mile track. Though he would not comment on what those might be, Clark said track owner and parent company Speedway Motor Sports, Inc. Chairman Bruton Smith has given the OK to "improve things all about the facility."

At a press conference Wednesday, the track unveiled a new logo which incorporates, in part, its "Real Racing, Real Fast" slogan.

The words below a crane-supported race car read: "Rebuilt, Real Fast."