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AMS loses spring NASCAR weekend in 2011

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Doug Gorman

dgorman@news-daily.com

After 50 years of hosting two NASCAR races at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS), the track in Hampton has lost one of its events.

Starting next year, there will no longer be a March Sprint Cup race at AMS.

The 1.5-mile quad-oval is owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI), which recently submitted several scheduling requests to NASCAR.

SMI Owner Bruton Smith said he would like to have at least one Cup date at each of SMI's NASCAR-sanctioned tracks.

The only one currently lacking a Cup race is Kentucky Speedway near Cincinnati.

A person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Sunday that Kentucky will host a Cup race next July.

The full 2011 NASCAR schedule won't be released until next week.

The economic impact of losing the spring race is expected to be felt throughout the entire Southern Crescent.

An independent study by the Atlanta Sports Council revealed that AMS generated more than half of the city's sports revenue, even more than the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and Thrashers.

According to figures, March's NASCAR Sprint cup race, near Atlanta, produced $165 million dollars for the local economy.

Officials at the speedway plan on moving ahead despite the loss of one its events after more than five decades, as they get ready for the Emory Healthcare 500 Labor day Weekend.

"Atlanta Motor speedway has provided top-quality racing entertainment to spectators from across the nation and around the world for 50 years," said speedway president, Ed Clark. "While our schedule will change, our commitment to the racing fans, who have been the heart and soul of Atlanta Motor Speedway through these years, will be stronger than ever. Our entire staff will be even more driven to produce the top annual sporting event in Georgia for many years to come."

Henry County Chamber of Commerce President Kay Pippin said losing the long-time event in the spring is disappointing, but the community has plenty of great racing to look forward to at AMS in the future.

"It's bad news, but we are not surprised," Pippin said. "We knew for sometime we were probably going to lose the race to Kentucky, but we were just hoping it was going to be put off for awhile. The good news is we still have an amazing night race coming up on Labor Day weekend. We are focusing our energy on that," she said. "We want to make this the biggest and best race on the circuit for a long time to come."

It will be the second consecutive year the speedway has hosted a night race during the holiday weekend, as the green flag drops to start the Sprint Cup race Sunday night, under the lights, on Labor Day weekend.

In addition to the Emory Healthcare 500, the Great Clips 300 -- part of the Nationwide Series -- will take place on Saturday of race weekend.

"We are thrilled with the acquisition of the Labor Day date two years ago, and are proud to host such a prestigious historical date on the NASCAR schedule." Clark said. "The track produces some of the great racing the circuit sees. It remains one of the drivers' favorite tracks, and we will continue to build a platform that sets this one date apart from the rest."

Atlanta Motor Speedway opened in 1960 and had hosted two NASCAR events ever since. The first NASCAR race at the track was held in July of 1960 and won by legendary driver Fireball Roberts. Roberts started that day on the pole and was still out front when the checkered flag dropped 200 laps later.

Jump ahead 50 years later, and Kurt Busch held off Matt Kenseth to win the Kobalt 500 last March, in what could be the last spring race in Atlanta.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.