BURNS: Around The Track

TO THE FLAG: A large crowd looks on as the field for Sunday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race takes the green flag at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (HHP Photo/Alan Marler)
Atlanta Motor Speedway’s time with NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, hopefully, isn’t racing into the sunset. (HHP Photo/Alan Marler)

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – For fans wanting NASCAR to return to its roots, Tuesday’s schedule release offered a bit of hope and a strong dose of reality.

Darlington (S.C.) Raceway’s crown jewel, its Labor Day-weekend 500-mile race, is back in its rightful place. The Bojangles’ Southern 500, raced in early April this year, heads back to Labor Day weekend in 2015.

Atlanta Motor Speedway’s lone date moves to March 1, the second race of the season. There’s a dangerous precedent with this.

Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway, long known as North Carolina Motor Speedway, had two race dates for more than three decades. When it was moved to one date, its race was the second one of the season in 2004.

You remember what happened in 2005. Rockingham was taken off the schedule altogether. It would be criminal – and hopefully, less realistic – for Georgia’s only race to move to another state.

I’m from North Carolina. I’ve lived in Alabama and Massachusetts as well, but it doesn’t take a Georgia resident to know the impact Georgia has had on NASCAR. Aside from Florida and the Carolinas, Georgia was the most important state for the development of stock-car racing in the South.

Some of the most influential people in the sport’s early days, like Raymond Parks – the car owner of NASCAR’s first champion, Red Byron in 1949 – came from Georgia. So did Lloyd Seay, a great driver who passed away just as he entered his prime. 1988 Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott and his 18-year-old wunderkind son Chase are Georgia natives.

There’s a laundry list of historical ties between NASCAR and Georgia. President Jimmy Carter was once a ticket-taker at AMS.

Georgia also lays claim to some of the best names in NASCAR history, like Tyre Rakestraw, Gober Sosebee and Jesse Samples Jr.

We can only hope he goes by Junior Samples.

If Georgia were a person, its blood would be made up of racing. And maybe peaches.

Now, the state’s lone race date will have to compete with Mother Nature. It’s not an unheard-of thing, though. Atlanta staged races early in the season for years, but it had two race dates back then. The best way to ensure the track keeps its race is for fans to show up – and likely bundle up – in droves.

Here’s hoping it’ll all work out.