Originally created 03/07/03

State backs Bruton for Atlanta's races



ATLANTA - In a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation Thursday, Georgia politicians pledged their support for keeping two NASCAR races in the Atlanta area.

This weekend's race and its associated events will bring 250,000 fans from all 50 states and 13 countries, according to Atlanta Motor Speedway. The two races rev the state's economy by $455 million - more than the combined horsepower of Atlanta's four professional teams.

But the owners of new tracks out West want to host races, too, and NASCAR officials have suggested moving races from tracks such as Atlanta.

Thursday, Bruton Smith, owner of the Atlanta track, drew the proverbial line in the sand, backed up by Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and two dozen other state politicians.

"There's been a rumor that we might move one of these events," he said. "We're not going to do that."

Smith has invested more than $100 million in Atlanta Motor Speedway and said he's going to continue his support of the track, located 30 miles south of Atlanta in Henry County.

Sen. President Pro-Tempore Eric Johnson of Savannah explained why many executives from Georgia's largest employers are also supporting the effort to keep both races.

"This is not just about entertainment," he said. "It's also about money."

Perdue added that the jobs created by the track in the tourism business were important to the state.

"This is about business for Georgia," he said.

Perdue recalled that during his campaign last year he had the chance to drive a race car at the Atlanta track.

"It didn't take but one lap for me to realize I make a better politician than race driver," he said.

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424 or wjones@morris.com.