NASCAR’s coming to town this weekend, but it’s not the full-fendered crowd that races at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton. The sanctioning body’s Grand-Am road racing series will compete for the first time at Road Atlanta near Braselton.
The circuit’s first appearance at the historic 2.54-mile, 12-turn road course is happening because of the merger of the Braselton-based American Le Mans Series and the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based Grand-Am circuit, a merger that includes the Road Atlanta track being brought into the fold of the circuit that will become the United SportsCar Racing series next year.
Not surprisingly, given Road Atlanta’s place in sports-car racing, many of the drivers who will compete this weekend have raced there in the past.
Scott Pruett, who drives a car owned by Chip Ganassi, won one of his first professional races at Road Atlanta in 1986 and has competed in the track’s signature event, the Petit Le Mans.
Pruett said on a teleconference this week that Road Atlanta’s layout is challenging.
“It’s difficult, it’s tough; it’s one of those places where it’s going to take a good balance of the race car to kind of get down through the esses and then obviously trying to blend how much downforce you run for drag down the back straight,” he said.
Pruett and Memo Rojas, the co-driver of the No. 01 BMW Riley, enter the race atop the Daytona Prototype standings, but they’re only two points ahead of the No. 99 Corvette of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty.
Max Angelelli and Jordan Taylor, who drive the No. 10 Corvette Dallara for Wayne Taylor Racing, are third in the standings after their win in the circuit’s most recent race, at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Ala.
Angelelli, a four-time participant in the Petit Le Mans, said he’s anxious to get back on the winding, up-and-downhill course.
“It’s a great racetrack,” he said. “I really love it. I’ve had great success there, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Gates open at Road Atlanta on Friday for practice and qualifying. The two-hour, 45-minute main event starts at 4:30 pm. Saturday, following the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge for street-stock sports cars.
NASCAR heritage on display in Pensacola: The return of NASCAR racing to historic Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., saw Ben Kennedy, the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., dominate the race to get his first win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East division. Until this past weekend it hasn’t hosted a NASCAR series since the All Pro Series ran there in 1997.
Kennedy, the son of NASCAR’s executive vice president Lesa Kennedy, said on this week’s NASCAR teleconference that winning in his home state, and at a place such as Five Flags, where he’s raced in Late Models in the past, was special.
“There is so much prestige and history at that racetrack and of course with the Snowball Derby and a bunch of really cool races that’s they put on at that racetrack,” Kennedy said. “It was really cool to win there.”
This summer, Kennedy, a 21-year-old University of Florida student, is set to make his Camping World Truck Series debut at Bristol Motor Speedway, then move to Iowa Speedway and then to Homestead-Miami Speedway.
If he runs respectably at the three tracks, starting on the half-mile at Bristol and concluding on the mile-and-a-half at Homestead, he should be cleared to run full time in the truck series next year.
He’s set to drive in the truck series for Turner Scott Motorsports, the same team that fielded the truck that Kyle Larson drove to his first major NASCAR victory at Rockingham Speedway on Sunday.
Local Late Model action: Tony Knowles of Tyrone won the season-opening Late Model race at Dixie Speedway in Woodstock. Mike McConnell won in Limited Late Model, and Michael Page was victorious in Crate Late Model.
Knowles’ uncle, Oliver Gentry of Newnan, led every lap to win the Late Model feature at Senoia Raceway, with Blake Griffin of Grantville taking the B Cadet feature.