By Jason A. Smith
A mixture of exhaust fumes and excitement peppered the air in Hampton Friday, as NASCAR fans gathered to welcome their favorite drivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS).
Racing enthusiasts assembled in anticipation of Sunday's Emory Healthcare 500 event at the race track, to watch dozens of 18-wheelers carrying race cars file into the track's infield.
One fan, who was taking pictures of the passing trucks, was Cal Parker, of Reynolds, Ga., in the central part of the state. Parker, who arrived in the area Thursday, said he has been an ardent supporter of racing at AMS since 1994.
"I've only missed two [races] since then," said Parker, 40. "It's one of the best tracks and fastest tracks in NASCAR, and there ain't a bad seat in the house. I'm shaking, I'm so giddy."
Parker added that he and his family are planning to keep a close eye on their favorite driver, David Ragan, who drives the No. 6 UPS car. The reason for their choice is a personal one, according to Parker.
"He's kin to my wife, so we definitely pull for him," he said.
David and Sheree Fletcher came from their home in Dillsburg, Pa., to watch Sunday's race -- their first at AMS. They're anxious to see Dale Earnhardt, Jr., compete. Sheree Fletcher, 43, said she and her husband have been to races at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, and Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.
"We like to check out the different tracks and see what they are like," she said. "[AMS] is a very nice track."
David Fletcher, 50, said he enjoys coming to NASCAR events, because of the excitement level he sees in fans of the sport. Those fans, he added, also contribute to the racing experience in another way. "The fans seem a whole lot friendlier," he said. "It's like a big family."
Jonathan Lund, of Charlotte, N.C., has been to every race at AMS for the last six years. Lund, 38, said he will be cheering for Jeff Burton on Sunday, as he has done for the last 10 years. "He's a consistent driver, for the most part," Lund said. "When he's got good equipment, he does very well, and he's a nice, clean racer. I think he's gonna do good. Atlanta's a pretty straightforward track to drive, and anybody's got a chance to win it on Sunday."
Lund said he is particularly looking forward to watching the race, because it will be held under the lights at AMS. "We like the fact that it's a night race," he said. "Not being out in the sun all day long is a big help."
After all the drivers and their trucks were safely on the infield at AMS, pit crews began working on their vehicles in anticipation of Sunday's race. Among them was Daniel Lynch, interior mechanic for Sam Hornish, Jr., whose No. 77 Dodge Charger will be featured in the event.
Lynch, 24, said he feels good about his driver's chances this weekend.
"We ran really good here in the spring race," he said. "I think we had a Top-10 car. We had some motor issues, but we've gotten everything straightened out. I think we'll do pretty decent."