By Johnny Jackson
This weekend, the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, will become the fourth-largest town in the state with one of the state's busiest infrastructures.
With more than 120,000 people expected to attend the races, the speedway will -- at least temporarily -- rival the Henry County School System as one of the county's largest employers. Some 5,000 will be employed in some capacity at the speedway, during race activities this Friday through Sunday - from law-enforcement help to concessionaires.
This will all happen, as it has for several years now, under the watchful eye of AMS President Ed Clark. This is Clark's 16th year with AMS. He joined the speedway in October 1992, with Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
"I'm basically responsible for all of the events at the speedway," said Clark, 53. "My primary job, year in and year out, is to help our staff be able to do their jobs, and motivate them to take care of their area. And we take care of the spectators."
The speedway employs 53 people year-round, with roughly 5,000 others employed for the race weekends.
"Our theme line is to provide a winning experience for every customer every time," he added. "And we want to make it possible for everyone who would like to attend the race [have] an opportunity to attend."
Clark's love of motor sports began when he was 8 years old. Then, he attended his first NASCAR event at Richmond Speedway and got a chance to meet some of NASCAR's professional drivers.
He started his career, however, nearly 40 years ago as a 16-year-old working in the mailroom of his local bi-weekly newspaper in Virginia. He said he convinced the sports editor at the paper to give him the opportunity to write about the area's races.
He later attended college at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1977 with a degree in horticulture, and a minor in journalism. He accepted a job as the public relations director at Bristol International Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. Thereafter, he became the general manager at Nashville Raceway and had stints at Lowe's Motor Speedway and North Carolina Speedway.
Today, as he heads up the speedway in Hampton, he enjoys pursuing his hobbies of racing and horticulture. He participates in the speedway's Thursday Thunder, running his Thunder Roadster and Legends car up the track.
"Racing, it's just a hobby with me," Clark said. "You get the fun of the racing, but you also get to fellowship with other racers. It's something I've always loved. I've always been a competitive person, but I never thought I'd actually drive."
He has won 16 races so far. He has won the Thunder Roadster (The Winter Flurry) Championship twice, during the winters of 2005-06 and 2006-07.
When he is not racing at AMS, he may be out pruning hedges with the speedway's landscapers.
"From time to time, if I need to just go think or something, I'll actually go and prune the shrubs in front," he added. "It's good mental therapy."
He said he also enjoys bass fishing. He routinely fishes for small-mouth bass at a friend's private lack in Griffin, Ga., but he is most successful in the waters of The New River in Virginia, where he claims to have snagged 175, small-mouth bass in a single day. "It is just so much fun."
Clark lives in Peachtree City, with his wife, Teresa. Together, the couple has two children -a 20-year-old daughter, Nicki, and a son, Collin, who turns 16 on Saturday.
Though no one else in Clark's immediate family has aspirations to race as he has, he said they support him in his role as ambassador for the speedway, which he admits has its high and low points.
"We get outstanding assistance and cooperation from the folks in Henry County and surrounding areas," he said. "[But] my least favorite part is the day after [a big race]. You come in and the crowd is gone and the trash is still here. But if you have a love for something, I think you find a way to pursue it. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to work with Bristol [and now AMS]. This is a job, but I don't look at it as a job."