By Jason A. Smith
Local residents with a passion for speed and sweet rides, had an opportunity to put the pedal to metal at Atlanta Motor Speedway Friday.
For the second year in a row, AMS hosted a Street Warriorz event, in which owners of tricked-out vehicles showed off their cars, while others took their machines drag racing.
Jon O'Neal, event director for Street Warriorz, said the purpose of the company's efforts is to take hot rods and drag racing "back to [their] roots."
"Where drag racing started was real people with real street cars, souping them up, giving them some more power and putting them on a drag strip," O'Neal said. "Instead of running full-competition cars, and inviting people to be spectators in that event, we're inviting people to be participants."
Street Warriorz is in the midst of a 21-city tour across the United States. O'Neal said each venue in which they appear, gives diehard racing fans an opportunity unlike any other. "This is the most hardcore underground car series in the nation, hands-down," he said. "The crowd that we get really respects that. They respect that we're not bringing tens of thousands of dollars worth of cars out, so they can watch them. We're bringing something more down-to-earth."
The company's events, O'Neal said, give car owners more freedom to display their machines and put them to the test. The only rule in Street Warriorz, he said, is "there are no rules."
To illustrate his point, O'Neal referred to two cars that were featured in Friday's event. One was a brand-new Dodge Viper, and the other a mid-1990s Dodge Colt, which he called the "throwaway car" of that decade.
Few of the drivers featured Friday possessed any formal training in racing, O'Neal said. However, he maintained that Street Warriorz events are as safe as possible.
"Anytime you're in a vehicle, there is a risk, whether you're on the highway or a drag strip," he said. "What we do is offer a facility with guard walls in between any cars, and where any spectator could be."
In addition, he pointed out that all vehicles in the racing portion of the event were required to pass a safety inspection before running on the speedway's one-eighth-mile track.
Friday marked the second straight Street Warriorz event at AMS for Richard Fryza, of Jonesboro. A heavy-equipment operator for Clayton County, Fryza brought his 1995 Pontiac Firebird formula car to the track.
He said as much as he enjoys his job with the county, it does not compare with racing, which has been his passion for three decades. "I've been watching drag racing since I was 16 years old," said Fryza, who has competed on tracks in Eatonton, Commerce, Covington and elsewhere. "Once you get it in your blood, you can't ever get it out."
Many of the 200-plus people who brought their cars to AMS, came from Henry County and surrounding areas, according to Ted Austad, event promotions coordinator for the speedway. He said the partnership between AMS and Street Warriorz was born out of success in another AMS program.
"It started out with our Friday Night Drags, which hit a chord in the market," Austad said. "We created a facility that was closer to the Atlanta market. We decided to take the racing off the streets, and help out area police officers ... to bring [racing] to a safe environment, where people can have fun with their cars."
Austad said the Street Warriorz program's use of live music, competitions and other forms of entertainment, "fits in perfectly" with the Friday Night Drags series.
Marcy Scott, the speedway's director of marketing and promotion, agrees with Austad. She called Street Warriorz "a great partner," and said AMS plans to host annual events with the company. "They take street racing to the next level, and provide tons of entertainment for the fans, from contests to music. There's something for everyone."
Jon Stovall, 39, of Alpharetta, brought two cars to the event - a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass and a 2006 Dodge Viper. A first-time participant, Stovall said his car hobby is a welcome change of pace from his career in real estate.
"I've been a car nut since I was a kid," he said. "I love anything to do with racing cars - donuts, burnouts, anything. It's a lot of fun for a Friday night."