At Speed At Atlanta With Jackie Smith

Brandon Reed

Brandon Reed

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 3/18/11

Last Saturday proved to be another milestone for me, as I got a chance to make my on-track debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Okay, it sounds bigger than it actually was, but for me – it was huge!

I was at AMS, working with other volunteers to represent the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame during the track’s open house event.  Along with Bobby Milam and I were several other volunteers, including Jackie Smith, son of Hall of Fame racer Jack Smith.

Jackie had brought his replica of his dad’s 1960 Pontiac Catalina NASCAR racer, which was a big hit, as it is most everywhere it goes.

The folks at AMS were very kind to include the Hall of Fame in their open house event, and gave us one of the best spots in the place to set up our display, which was right outside of the ticket office and gift shop just outside the track.  All through the afternoon, we talked to interested race fans, answered questions and handed out flyers.  We even spent some time on the radio, talking to Capt. Herb Emory and Doug Turnbull.

I spent a good portion of the day swapping stories with folks, and sharing stories with Jackie Smith.  He would tell me a story about his dad, and I’d tell him one about my grandfather.  It’s not a bad way to spend a pretty Saturday afternoon, trust me.

Part of the deal if you bought your tickets that day was that you would have the opportunity to take some pace laps around the 1.5 mile track.  Later in the day, an AMS representative stopped by out tent and offered Jackie a pass to take his dad’s car around the track.  Jackie said he had done this several times, and thought he was going to pass.

“Hold on, Jackie,” I said.  “If you’ll do it, I’d love to ride along with you.”

Jackie just looked at me and grinned.  He took the pass for the laps, thanked the AMS official, and handed it to me.

“We’ll do it,” he said.  “But you’re going to be driving!”

I was more than a little stunned, but after a little cajoling, agreed to pilot the #47 Pontiac around the track.

We were third in line of what looked to be about 200 cars that lined up in the AMS infield about an hour and a half later to take to the track.

“You ready for your Atlanta racing debut?” Jackie asked as we waited.

You bet.'s Brandon Reed pilots Jack Smith's Pontiac across the start-finish line at Atlanta Motor Speedway with support from Smith's son, Jackie, in the passenger's seat. Photo courtesy Atlanta Motor Speedway

When we pulled out behind the pace car and the two cars ahead of us, it was a rush.  There’s nothing to prepare you for driving up on the banking in the first turn, pushing down on the throttle and getting up to speed.

The first few cars got way out ahead, and Jackie laughed when I told him I’d wait until we got on the backstretch to close the gap.

Down the backstretch and into the third turn, I was ready for the banking this time.  The car just hung right up on the bank as we sailed through turns three and four.  I was amazed at how wide the front stretch is.  It’s easy to see how the NASCAR guys can stack up three wide down through there.

Maybe it was because I was piloting a vintage Pontiac that Jackie’s dad had put together, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of the history that Atlanta Motor Speedway held.  Jack Smith had actually been the first driver to take laps around the track prior to it’s opening back in 1960.  Here I was, turning my first laps on the big track in his car.  That’s some rush, let me tell you.

Jackie was laughing his head off at me.  I drummed it up to about 65-70, and stayed there, despite the pace car and first two cars in line running off ahead.

“We’re gonna get lapped!” he joked.

I didn’t care.  I had settled into a groove and was having a great time.

After about seven laps, we were waved in, and the next group took to the track.  We drove back out the access tunnel and back around to the front of the track.

On the way back around, a new Mustang, which had been on the track behind up, pulled up next to us at a stop sign.  I floored it, pulling away from the line at a quick clip.  I just wanted to make sure the Mustang driver knew the Pontiac wasn’t just a “looker”.

Jackie ribbed me all the way about getting driven away from by the pace car.  I figured I had run third, which wasn’t bad for my first time out.

But what I really took away from it was a great memory, a moment etched in my mind that showed me a little of what it’s like to go driving off in the corner on a major superspeedway.

No matter if it was at 75 or 175, turning laps in Jack Smith’s Pontiac at Atlanta is something I’ll never forget.

Thanks, Jackie.

Brandon Reed is the editor and publisher of Georgia Racing

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