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Jay Busbee

Georgia's governor personally lobbied to keep Atlanta race

Jay Busbee
From The Marbles

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For an up-close look at how the sausage gets made in NASCAR -- specifically, how races get snatched from one track and dispensed to another -- you need go no further than this week's NASCAR.com interview with Bruton Smith, Speedway Motorsports Inc. owner, on how he made the decision to pull a race from Atlanta and give it to Kentucky.

Apparently, literally hours before Smith made his call, he received a visit from Georgia's governor, Sonny Perdue, as well as the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House. What followed was classic political doublespeak and ultimately failed attempts at horse-trading, retold in vintage Smith fashion.

So why did Smith make the switch? Here's his reply, in its entirety:

"Weather, weather, weather. And I’ve talked with the governor down there [in Georgia] repeatedly. I’ve been down there on two occasions and we asked for some little things, and we really thought we were going to get them. But we didn’t.

"The governor and the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house [in Georgia], they all flew up to Charlotte and we had a meeting for two hours and 15 minutes. It was a great love fest. I really enjoyed it — plus the governor brought me a necktie. I thought that was great."

Aw, that's precious. A necktie! The hundreds of thousands of people who are going to lose out on the estimated $50 million in income generated by the spring race are oh so very happy you got a new necktie, Bruton. I wouldn't let any of them tie it for you, though. You might find they pull it a little tight. (Full disclosure: I live in Atlanta.)

Anyway, according to Smith, Perdue insisted that the state of Georgia didn't have the funds to carry out on those "little things" -- which Smith refused to identify -- that would have kept the race in Atlanta. When asked whether Smith or the governor called one another's bluff, Smith replied,

"I wouldn’t say it like that. That sounds like a poker game. I don’t think anybody called anybody’s bluff. We had a two hour and 15-minute love fest and he told me how much he loved me. The lieutenant governor and speaker all said how much they loved me and loved the speedway. … I was very clear that I had not made my decision before that meeting. That meeting did not end until 6:15 — and I didn’t make my decision until 6:20."

Five minutes. Five [expletive deleted] minutes. Yes, it sounds very much like Smith deeply and soberly considered what Perdue et. al. had to say ... for five minutes.

Look, Smith's a businessman, and businesses pick up and move from states all the time. Smith has a right to go where he can find the best audience for his product, and Atlanta fans did themselves no favors by watching too many races from the comfort of their own homes. That's all out there, all in Smith's favor.

But to toy around with the process -- to talk of "love fests" and "little things" and characterize this as just something that, gosh darn it, didn't quite work out, no hard feelin's, y'all -- that's just flat-out disrespectful to the Atlanta fans who have supported racing and Smith for all these years. As he himself noted, Atlanta regularly sold out all 180,000 seats during the decade-plus it hosted the final race of the season.

So this should be a screaming warning to the fans at any other Speedway Motorsports track -- heads up, you could be next. And clearly, a necktie alone isn't enough to sway Smith's mind.

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