Roberts wins inaugural Atlanta stop

Sunday, July 31, 1960 – Glen “Fireball” Roberts of Daytona Beach, Fla. passed Cotton Owens with 12 laps remaining to capture the inaugural Dixie 300 NASCAR premier series race at Atlanta International Raceway. The victory was the second of the year for Roberts and came in his sixth start of the ’60 season.

Roberts was flagged the winner when the race ended under caution. Owens and Jack Smith were second and third, respectively. All three were fielding Pontiac entries.

The win was the 23rd of Robert’s NASCAR career.

Bud Moore, head mechanic for Smith, lodged a protest after the race claiming his driver and Owens were both ahead of Roberts when the checkered flag appeared. NASCAR officials, however, ruled in Roberts’ favor.

Official starter Ernie Moore was knocked unconscious after he was struck in the neck by a piece of debris that flew off one of the race cars. He was transported to a local hospital with non life-threatening injuries.

According to reports, attendance for the inaugural race was 25,000, fewer than what had been anticipated.

Driver Speedy Thompson suffered three broken ribs when his car slammed into the fourth turn guard rail, bringing out the caution and sealing the win for Roberts.

Owens complete the entire 200-lap race on a single set of tires.

Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War 1 flying ace and recipient of the Medal of Honor, provided the American flag that was raised in the AMS pits. Rickenbacker was also a racer, competing in the Indianapolis 500 four times.

USAC bails, NASCAR steps in at Atlanta

Friday, June 30, 1961 – The Festival 250, a 250-mile USAC-sanctioned race scheduled for July 9 at Atlanta International Raceway, was cancelled due to tire concerns and risks associated with competing on the high-banked layout. As a result of the cancellation, track officials were able to obtain a race for NASCAR’s top series to be run on the same date instead.

Firestone officials expressed concern over track temperatures which reached almost 140 degrees when Indy veteran Dick Rathman made laps around the year-old speedway. The tire maker said it had been unable to complete necessary tire tests previously because of paving work taking place at the track. The two tire combinations eventually tested proved to be suitable for the open-wheel cars on the fast, banked speedway.

Atlanta officials said they had done everything they were asked of USAC to prepare of the race, including modifications to the relatively new track.

NASCAR agreed to step in and run an event on the same day with its Grand National series and featuring a purse of not less than $30,000.

The addition gave the series 52 races for the ’61 season.

In 2001, CART officials called off a race at Texas Motor Speedway due to concerns over extraordinary speeds and excessive G forces.

Foyt gets checkers, Panch gets win

Sunday, April 11, 1965 – A.J. Foyt finished first but the victory went to Marvin Panch in the Atlanta 500 NASCAR premier series race at Atlanta International Raceway. Panch won the race from the pits, where he had taken up residence after climbing out of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford on lap 211 due to heat exhaustion and strained neck muscles. That’s when Foyt climbed in and the Texan held off Bobby Johns in the Holman-Moody Ford for the “win.”

Foyt turned down several offers to drive in relief after his own No. 41 Ford was sidelined due to a hung throttle less than 100 laps into the race. Team members with drivers Sam McQuagg and Junior Johnson approached the Indy 500 winner asking for assistance, but Foyt declined. He was leaving the track when members of the Wood Brothers team asked if he would spell Panch for the remainder of the race.

“I’ve been friends with Marvin and the Woods boys a long time,” Foyt told reporters after the race, “so I decided to go in.”

The victory was career win No. 13 of 17 for Panch, who returned later that season and won the fall race for a sweep of the NASCAR Atlanta stops.

A first for Labonte

Thursday, March 12, 1981 – Terry Labonte scores his first career pole in NASCAR’s premier series, nabbing the top spot for the Atlanta 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The 24-year-old Labonte, driving the No. 44 Stratograph Buick for car owner Billy Hagan, won the pole with a lap of 162.940 mph.

Labonte, a first-time winner the previous season when he stunned the racing community with a victory in the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, had a previous best starting position of second, earned at Texas World Speedway in 1979. In Atlanta, he was joined on the front row by another “youngster,” 41-year-old Harry Gant. It was only the second season of full-time competition in the Cup Series for Gant.

Bobby Allison did not attempt to qualify on Thursday after NASCAR instructed him to change the 3 ½-inch spoiler on his LeMans to a 1 ½-inch spoiler. After heated words and threats to pull out of the race, Allison eventually qualified 30th the following day.

Edwards tap sends Keselowski airborne

Sun., March 7, 2010 – Kurt Busch won the race but that wasn’t what most folks were talking about following the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. With three laps remaining, Carl Edwards, running more than 150 laps down to the leader, intentionally hit Brad Keselowski, causing the Team Penske driver’s Dodge to spin and come up off the track. After tumbling over and striking the wall with the driver’s side A-pillar and roof, the car landed upright. Keselowski was shaken but unhurt.

The incident came after contact between Edwards, piloting the No. 99 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, and Keselowski earlier in the race sent Edwards to the garage and resulted in the loss of multiple laps while repairs were made to his car. Almost a year earlier, contact between the two on the final lap at Talladega Superspeedway had sent Edwards’ car flying off the ground and into the catch fence. Keselowski, driving for Phoenix Racing at that time, scored his first Cup Series win.

“If they’re going to allow people to intentionally wreck each other at tracks this fast,” Keselowski said, “we will hurt someone either in the cars or in the grandstands.”

“Brad knows the deal between him and I … the scary part was his car went airborne,” Edwards offered.

NASCAR’s response? “I would say there seems to be a history between those two drivers. I’m not going to go any further into it right now,” Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition for NASCAR, said afterward.