Her first memory of watching a race with her father was in 1966 when she was only 6 years old. We can all do the math. Sherrel Jan Davis (known to all her friends as “Jan”) has been an ardent fan of racing, and the Atlanta Motor Speedway in particular, for almost 52 years! As a matter of fact, her daddy helped with preparing the land for the track back in 1958. She’s not one of those starstruck fans who clamor for selfies and autographs. No. In her words, she likes “good-looking men in fast cars who can drive 200 miles an hour and run a clean race.”
Jan has been leading tours at the Speedway for 11 years, and I was lucky enough to ride with her on a tour just a few weeks ago. I admitted to her that I was “a blank slate” when it came to racing, and she was patient in answering my questions, full of facts, and extremely entertaining.
If you’re a movie buff and take a tour of the track and grounds, you might recognize places where scenes were filmed in “Zombieland,” “Hunger Games 2” and “Need for Speed.” Georgia offers a tax break for movie production companies, so more and more locations in our neighboring state are showing up on the big screen.
Jan put us in a van and drove our group (consisting of my daughter, my granddaughter, a man visiting from California and myself) under the grandstands. We got out and took an elevator to the corporate suite level. We got an up-close look at the Arris Suite (Arris is a telecommunications equipment company) which is right next door to Mr. Bruton Smith’s suite, so naturally, we peered in through the glass windows.
Mr. Smith bought the track in 1990 when it was named Weaver Grandstand, changed the name to Atlanta Motor Speedway, invested $100 million and made it into the premier racing venue it is today. The Atlanta race is the second one on the NASCAR circuit every year, right behind Daytona. During that huge NASCAR weekend, the corporate suites are rented for $35,000 for the whole weekend, and the premium camping spots for motorhomes and the like go for $4000.
Jan let us feel the 24-degree banks in the quarter-mile turns at both a comfortably-fast speed and slower. Believe me, faster is better. 🙂
She showed us Tara Place where 46 luxury condos are rented. I learned that there are people who enjoy racing so much they want to live near the track year-round. Wow! We also saw Tara Field, a small airfield where drivers can land their own planes. Jan laughingly shared, “Racers are very competitive people. They even race in their golf carts!” That makes sense when you hear that they can make the mile-and-a-half lap in only 30 seconds. Whoa.
She pointed out the In-Care Facility that is staffed and waiting in case of a wreck but told us that a driver wants to be able to crank his car and make it to Pit Road. Then he can continue to race. Above all, he doesn’t want to have to get in the ambulance, thus putting him out of the competition. Ricky Rudd even taped his eyelids open after an accident one day in order to keep racing. In Jan’s words: “These athletes mean it, girl. They MEAN it!”
We saw the statue of Richard Pettey who retired from this very track in 1992 after making 25,000 laps on this track alone. Certainly, that feat deserved a statue.
I learned lots of terms, such as Pit Road, Bandelero Races, Legend Races, restrictor plates, Victory Lane, pole position and many more. In addition, Jan shared lots of facts about this track in particular, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. You really owe it to yourself to go and tour the facility in person. Lots of senior adult and church groups go, and they can accommodate large or small numbers of people.
I have lived all my life with practically no knowledge or understanding about a sport that hundreds of thousands are passionate about — probably none (other than the racers themselves) are as passionate as Jan Davis. She’s a delightful person. Go meet her.
And speaking of passions — What is YOUR passion? What is mine? What is it that I share with so much enthusiasm, knowledge, and experience that others will want to hear more and maybe get on board?
Ecclesiastes 9:10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. . . .”