By Jason A. Smith
This weekend, drivers will gather at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton for the biggest event of its kind in the track's history.
The ACDelco Street Drag Nationals will be held at AMS Saturday and Sunday. Competitors in 10 divisions of eight cars each, will face off to determine the fastest car in their respective brackets.
One of the favored drivers in the event is Bill Hatfield, of Hampton. His seven wins in 10 races this season at AMS earned him a top seed in the Sportsman division this weekend.
Hatfield, 45, currently works at Clayton Signs in Morrow, but says his fascination with speed has been a part of his life for decades. "I started racing when I was 19, at the Atlanta Speed Shop in Covington," he says. "I've messed with cars all my life, and I painted them until about eight years ago."
Hatfield will take his 1993 Ford Mustang to the track this weekend, in a quest for victory. He says he "feels good" about his chances at winning, but adds he is not ready to count out his fellow racers, just yet.
"It's hard to tell [what will happen], because I don't know who's coming and who's not," says Hatfield. "We've got cooler weather and no humidity, so I'll have to adjust the nitrous a little. I've got one of the fastest cars in the class, so it's pretty hard to beat."
Arnie Cobb, of Locust Grove, will also compete in the Nationals, as he takes his 1974 Chevy Nova to the track in the Pro Class. The 45-year-old says he earned the sixth seed in the competition, because he "showed up for enough races" to accumulate the points necessary to secure a spot.
Cobb, who has been racing for the last 27 years, describes his vehicle as a "crowd favorite," much like those of his competitors in the division.
"People are coming to see the cars that have flames coming out of the tailpipe, and sound like thunder," says Cobb, owner of Cobb's Auto Repair in Griffin. "We draw the crowd in, and the sportsmen's cars keep the crowd going."
He says camaraderie among drivers is more prevalent at AMS than at other tracks in which he has competed. He says he hopes to have a large number of supporters in the stands in Hampton this weekend. "I'm going to go out there with as much power as the track will hold, and keep my fingers crossed."
Mike Munoz, 40, of Stockbridge, made his first appearance as a racer at AMS earlier this year. He will drive his 1991 Ford Mustang in the Domestic Advanced Cars division during the ACDelco event.
Munoz, a reservist with the U.S. Marine Corps, says racing is currently a "hobby" for him. Still, he says he hopes to make it his profession. "I'd like to turn it into something more, if I can get some sponsorships."
He notes that, so far in his inaugural year in racing, things have been overwhelmingly positive. "During the 10-week season that started in June, I was the points leader for the whole time, until the last night," he says. "I've done a little tuning to the car. Hopefully, it will pay off. I hope to put on a good show for the crowd, because I'll have a good time either way."
Munoz says he began racing after being a lifelong fan of the sport. "I have some friends who have been involved in dirt-track racing for the last five years," he says. "I opted for drag racing, because I like the speed and the adrenaline rush."
Tickets for the event are $10 for a single-day entry, or $15 for a two-day pass. They can be purchased by calling (877) 9-AMS-TIX (877-926-7849), or by visiting www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.