From Staff Reports
Highlighting Atlanta Motor Speedway's 50th Anniversary Season as the track's Labor Day NASCAR night racing weekend approaches, the following is the first in a five-part series featuring memorable moments in Atlanta Motor Speedway's history.
10. Elliott's 1985 Atlanta dominance
Bill Elliott came to his home track having already won the 1985 NASCAR season-opening event in Daytona, but he failed to finish in the top-20 places in each of the next two races because of on-track incidents.
The Georgia native was still a new face in NASCAR at the time, having won just four races in the previous two seasons. He was also an outsider, basing his racing business from his hometown garage in Dawsonville when his competition was in the Charlotte area.
Elliott entered the 1985 Coca-Cola 500 at Atlanta International Raceway as another up-and-coming driver, but he left as a hometown hero. "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" would start from the third position and led a dominant 129 laps, including the final 54, en route to his first win at his home track.
The early season wins marked the beginning of a breakout season for Elliott, who would go on to tally 11-total wins that season to finish second in the points standings. The Georgia native would win eight additional races before returning to Atlanta for the year's penultimate event, the Atlanta Journal 500.
Elliott again started from the third position in the second Atlanta race and shot to the lead by lap 11. Again proving dominant, Elliott led 175 laps before claiming the 11th victory of his breakout season.
9. Superspeedway racing comes to Atlanta in 1960
Few who saw Atlanta Motor Speedway in its infancy would recognize the track today. A majestic facility situated on 887 acres south of Atlanta, today's Atlanta Motor Speedway is a far cry from the structure planned in 1958.
After construction began on the mammoth undertaking known as Atlanta International Raceway, work was soon halted when insufficient funding forced out four of the track's original investors and contractors went unpaid.
But when a group of businessmen attended a race at Darlington Raceway, NASCAR's original superspeedway, they become committed to bring superspeedway racing to Atlanta and completing the project.
"A group of us went to Darlington, and it was so festive, and there were so many people there and so much excitement," said Jack Black, one of the original shareholders who later became track president. "It just set us on fire."
Black and three partners joined original-investor Garland Bagley to infuse $1.8 million into the project to complete the facility for competition in 1960.
However, "complete" was a relative term.
"The track wasn't ready to be used," recalled Furman Bisher, then sports editor of The Atlanta Journal. "Some of the lower seats were so low fans couldn't see over the retaining wall. There was mud all over. You talk about Mudville."
In fact, the completion of the facility was so rushed, NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr., having concerns about how the asphalt surface would hold up, insisted the track's first-race, the 1960 Dixie 300, have a shortened, 300-mile distance.
But France's fears would be unfounded. And what the track lacked in accommodations, it all but made up for with on-the-track action, as NASCAR's star of the era, "Fireball" Roberts," claimed the win in a compelling first race in Atlanta.