Top Moments in 50 Years at AMS: 1978 Dixie 500, Track Damaged by Tornado Richard Petty beats Dave Marcis to the finish by a fender in the 1978 Dixie 500, only to later have Donnie Allison named race winner. Photo: Atlanta Motor Speedway A 2005...
Top Moments in 50 Years at AMS: 1978 Dixie 500, Track Damaged by Tornado
Richard Petty beats Dave Marcis to the finish by a fender in the 1978 Dixie 500, only to later have Donnie Allison named race winner. Photo: Atlanta Motor Speedway
A 2005 tornado at Atlanta Motor Speedway caused more than $40 million in damage.
Two such Atlanta Motor Speedway moments include a confusing finish to the 1978 Dixie 500 and a natural disaster at the racing facility.
No. 8: Young Brian France Determines 1978 Dixie 500 Winner
The 1978 Dixie 500 ended in controversy and fans were left to wonder who actually won the race until an unexpected player, 16-year-old Brian France, stepped forward to settle the matter.
Richard Petty appeared to edge Dave Marcis to the finish line by a fender in an Atlanta photo finish to claim the win in the 1978 Dixie 500. However, before Petty was able to pull into Victory Lane, the track's Public Address announcer proclaimed Donnie Allison the winner.
Allison had blown past Petty and Marcis with only seven laps remaining, but after being two circuits down earlier in the race, the race leaders and most fans assumed Allison was still one lap down. However, the NASCAR veteran had in fact previously reemerged on the lead lap and overtook Petty and Marcis to claim the race lead.
But just after Allison had conducted his winner's interview in Victory Lane, Atlanta International Raceway officials announced Petty was the winner, further confusing the matter.
When continued conversation between track officials, scorers and drivers failed to definitively confirm the winner, France emerged from the Scorer's Booth to confidently verify Allison was the winner. The victory marked Allison's 10th and final NASCAR win and his only victory in Atlanta. The win also completed an Allison brother sweep of Atlanta's 1978 races, as older brother Bobby won the 1978 Atlanta 500 in March.
No. 7: Atlanta Motor Speedway Struck by F2 Tornado in 2005
Even in the dark of night, track officials could tell Atlanta Motor Speedway had suffered tremendous damage. Light posts had snapped like toothpicks and the Speedway's flooded frontstretch parking lots looked more like a Great Lake than a tailgate haven for race fans.
As the sun came up, suspicions were confirmed as it was even more apparent the Speedway suffered a direct strike from a tornado spawned from the remnants of Hurricane Cindy on July 6, 2005.
Now illuminated, the damage was unimaginable. The Speedway's backstretch Weaver grandstand lay in ruin. A scoring tower and sponsor billboards had been slammed to the ground and destroyed. And many of the track's luxury suites featured a new convertible design, as the roof had been blown off by the F2 tornado's pummeling winds.
"It was one of the most astonishing scenes I have ever seen in my life. The amount of damage was shocking," said Ed Clark, Atlanta Motor Speedway president.
In total, the damage was estimated to exceed $40 million.
And if tension wasn't high enough with Atlanta's motorsports Mecca in ruins, the track had just three months to repair the facility for the 2005 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500.
Speedway officials had 100 days to complete a massive rebuild project that might take upwards of six months under normal circumstances, not including planning and preparation.
"Normally you would have months of lead time to execute a project of that nature, but we had to complete an essentially overnight rebuild," explained Brandon Hutchison, Atlanta Motor Speedway vice president of events. "Our track's objective is to always provide fans with a great experience and customer service, but overnight we had a facility no longer fit to host events. It was a juggling act to say the least and it took all 100 days and then some."
With the track's office building in shambles, the Speedway's staff was forced to juggle office locations and relocate during the rebuild.
"Imagine closing your office desk tonight and not being able to come back for three months," added Hutchison.
But despite all the tribulations, work progressed at a rapid pace and the Speedway played host to a successful 2005 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 weekend without issue.
Coincidentally, the 2005 tornado marked the second time the track had been damaged by a twister, having faced a similar attack by Mother Nature during the 1970s. Track officials also hope the 2005 incident marks the last such occurrence.