After 40 years, Atlanta Dragway will say goodbye to NHRA racing in 2021, possibly closing its doors

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Jason Moon/Atlanta Dragway

The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) is announcing that the upcoming NHRA Southern Nationals will be the last held at Commerce, Georgia’s Atlanta Dragway. Since the event was skipped last year due to the pandemic, the 2021 event will be the 40th hosted at Georgia’s House of Speed, after which the NHRA will seek a new buyer for the property in an effort to raise funds to update other tracks. Currently listed by the Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) realty firm, the property was confirmed for sale by the NHRA via Competition Plus back in December of 2020, and while the NHRA was initially optimistic about finding another track operator, the JLL listing later revealed the all-too-common push to redevelop the property for “a large mixed-use program of industrial, residential, and commercial uses.”

Sigh.

The NHRA states that the proceeds of the sale will go into its other tracks—Gainesville Raceway, Lucas Oil Raceway, and Auto Club Raceway/Pomona—but it strikes a blow to what was once one of the NHRA’s longest-running tracks on the nitro schedule. While Atlanta Dragway gets its name from the nearby metroplex, it’s actually a little over an hour away from Commerce, a city of approximately 6800 people. After opening its doors to racers in 1976 with the IHRA Dixies Nationals, this one-time red-dirt airport runway became a mecca for Georgian drag-racing fans. The NHRA purchased the track in 1990 and has since operated it as a yearly stop for its touring classes. The venue also hosts an endless list of sportsman and local events.

In a recent announcement, the NHRA says that it is committed to its 2021 weekly event schedule “through the fall, including the Summit E.T. Bracket Series events and the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series National Open, May 21–23, along with the NHRA Division 2 Summit E.T. Racing Series Finals, September 30–October 2.” Beyond that, the future is uncertain for the storied quarter-mile strip.

While it’s easy to focus on the loss to spectators, who now face a 200-mile journey to any race weekend in Bristol, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina; or even down to South Georgia’s own Valdosta, I feel that the potential loss would be measured in public safety for the Atlanta metro area if Atlanta Dragway were to close down. Historically, when racing venues are erased from an area, the remains will shake out into the streets. Drag strips, in the spirit of the NHRA’s quest to quail early forms of street racing, were built to give hot rodders a safe and organized outlet. As time has gone on, urban sprawl and commercial development envelops the land where these once-rural drag strips stand. Then, one of two things happen: The new neighbors complain until a city decides their tax revenue is more valuable than the track’s, and levy noise enforcement; or the land underneath the track simply becomes astronomically more valuable than the track’s operations— which appears to be the case here. The choice to close the track’s doors, however, has greater impacts than providing another measly 318 acres for ticky tacky little boxes on the hillside

Many leaders, including those in the Atlanta area, are realizing that there needs to be safe venues for automotive enthusiasts in order to tame potential public harm, while others who have historically kept an anti-automotive culture view are suffering increasingly anti-authoritarian acts, like Southern California’s takeover crowd, which grew out of the over-policing of cruises and meets.

As for now, the future of Atlanta Dragway is undecided.

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