For 45 years, the thunder of fast, powerful drag racing cars echoed through Commerce and its surrounding areas.
On October 16, the roar of the cars, the smell of the racing fuel and the presence of some of the most impressive automobiles in the world will grace Commerce and Banks Crossing for the last time. That’s the date of the final event at Atlanta Dragway, a Summit Racing Series Bracket Race as well as the last “Night of Fire.”
The National Hot Rod Association is selling the property after 28 years of ownership. NHRA has held major events at the track since 1980 with the biggest event being the Southern Nationals, an NHRA event featuring drag racing’s top three classes; top fuel, funny car and pro stock.
Though it’s not the loss of the biggest events that will affect the drag strips numerous fans the most. The biggest loss is the regular events like the bracket races, Fast Friday Street Legal Racing and the Northeast Georgia Swap Meet. Those are the events folks like Scott Peterman will miss the most.
Peterman, a Nicholson resident, has frequented Atlanta Dragway since the 1980s with his bright red 1967 Chevy Nova. After a long absence from the street legal racing scene, Peterman brought his Nova back to Atlanta Dragway recently. Now that the track is closing, Peterman wishes he had returned sooner.
“Just recently I brought it back out and started racing it again,” he said. “Primarily, I was racing it here in the late 80s… This has always been a great facility and wonderful place to race. I got a lot of great memories here, my dad raced here, both of my brothers have raced here before. We’ve got a lot of great memories running down the track at 100 mph looking at each other, through our helmets, side-by-side going across the finish line.
“And I can remember other various events, sharing that time with my dad and other family members just looking at the cars and enjoying the facility. If you’re a car guy, there was always a lot of good stuff to see.
“You would think a facility like this would be here forever, now that it’s going away, it’s deeply saddening and disappointing. I’ve really enjoyed having a facility like this close to home…. I really hate to see this place go. As a family we did various things, but drag racing was one of the things we’ve enjoyed together. We had a lot of fun here.”
Peterman says he’s unsure if he’ll take his Nova to events at other tracks.
“The thought of trailering or, it’s a street car so driving it, racing it and driving it back home is just not as convenient,” he said. “I probably will visit some other tracks occasionally, but there’s nothing like having one here.”
Charles Bramlett of Bogart is another long-time guest of Atlanta Dragway, though his racing days are well behind him, he still frequents the track to watch the action. The drag strip means a lot to him.
“I don’t know what we’ll do. We’ve been coming here for 25 years,” Bramlett said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do on Friday nights, I’m going to be lost. I have a lot of friends here."
Bramlett used to drive a Chevy S10 down the track. When he bought the truck, it ran the quarter-mile in 13 seconds. After some work, he was able to pass the finish line in under 10 seconds. Some of his most vivid memories are of his time driving the S10 at the drag strip.
“I swapped motors, spent a bunch of money on it, and got it down to a 9.96 [seconds],” he said. “I put a put a high-price motor in it and ran it five times, and on the last time it blew up. It hit the wall, tore all to pieces and it kind of knocked me out a little bit. I pushed it into a building at the house and haven’t pushed it since.
The old guard aren’t the only ones who will miss driving cars at Atlanta Dragway. Noah and Trace Dunwoodie are a pair of brothers who work on their brother’s white Ford Mustang. Racing Mustangs at Atlanta Dragway is a family tradition since their father drove a fox body Mustang when they were young.
“I’ve been coming here since I was about six years old with my dad,” Noah said. “I hate to see it go, I don’t want it to. A lot of people come out here to race, they enjoy it, families come out here. There are a lot of memories built up here, it’s sad that they’re getting rid of it.
“I love this place. I bring my truck here every once in a while to race it. I have a lot of friends who come out here, and family. I’ve been hear since I was eight years old working on cars. We would have breakdowns out here and me and dad would work on it.”
Trace is much younger than his brother. Unfortunately for him, he’ll never get to follow in his father’s and brother’s footsteps and race down the track himself.
“Seeing it go down, now I’m not going to get a chance to do it,” he said. “It’s ending a whole family tradition.”
Current and former drivers are far from the only folks who are mourning the loss of Atlanta Dragway. Mike and Aiden Casey are a father and son from Maysville. Mike has been coming to the track for years and Atlanta Dragway events are something he and his sons enjoy experiencing together.
“I came here all the time. The track has been here 45 years for racing and stuff like that, now it’s going to be gone,” Mike said. “I’ve been bringing him [Aiden Casey] and his older brother here since they were both yee-high. We wanted to come here tonight because it’s one of the last Friday nights.”
For Aiden Casey, more than the racing itself, he’ll miss having the track to bond with his father.
“It’s a big shock, I’ve been coming here pretty much my whole life with my dad. We both have that one thing in common.”
Tom Kincaid and Don Hoppe are two friends who have spent numerous weekends at Atlanta Dragway at a racing events and swap meets. They’re left wondering where the racing and the swap meets are going to go and why at least the track itself couldn’t be saved.
“I hate it,” Kincaid said. “It’s 315 acres… In my mind, there’s enough room in a third of this space to keep the track open, but they sold out. Every weekend They raced here. All these drag racers here have cars because of this track, where are they going to go? Where’s the closest drag strip? 200 miles away.
“Where’s everyone else going to go now?” chimed Hoppe. “This is going to leave a big void here. It’s a shame, the passing of an era.”