By Jason A. Smith
As race weekend approaches at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, some local businesses are participating in efforts to welcome NASCAR fans to the Southside in anticipation of the Pep Boys Auto 500 Sunday.
At the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 135 Willow Lane in McDonough, show cars, simulators and NASCAR memorabilia are on display, along with several items often purchased by race fans, said Jerry Parrett, the store's manager.
Some items on display, he said, are coolers, grills, and drinks of all kinds.
Parrett said he is well aware of the "gigantic impact" that races at AMS have on Henry County, even though he has only been at the location for 10 days.
"It's great for the economy of [the county]," Parrett added.
The McDonough Wal-Mart is among a number of businesses, restaurants and hotels, in which staffers are putting up banners, wearing NASCAR T-shirts and showing their appreciation for the estimated 100,000 visitors expected in the county during race weekend, said Sarah Robbins, tourism director for the Henry County Chamber of Commerce.
"We want the race fans to feel welcome," Robbins said.
"[AMS] accounts for more than half of metropolitan Atlanta's total revenue from sports, and is projected to bring in $2.275 billion over the next five years," Robbins said. "That is more than the impact of the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Falcons combined."
Although only a portion of that impact directly affects Henry, Robbins said Thursday that the entire Atlanta metro region -- including Clayton County and other southside communities -- benefits when the speedway hosts a race.
"Local hotels fill up, and it spills over into other areas," she said.
Many of the race fans who stay at hotels during race weekends visit the Chick-Fil-A at 1321 Ga. Highway 20 West, in McDonough, according to the store's marketing director, Rita Rice.
"We usually see them coming on Thursday [prior to a race weekend]," she said. She added that a number of race fans are recognizable by the race memorabilia they are wearing when they come to the restaurant.
And there to greet them, in the days leading up to a big race, is a reader board with the message: "Welcome, Race Fans."