Exclusive: Atlanta track president warms up to new 2015 race date

Atlanta Motor Speedway has had trouble filling seats on Labor Day weekend.

Jeff Curry/Getty Images

When he first heard that Atlanta Motor Speedway was having its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series date changed again for 2015, this time to the second race of the season, track president Ed Clark admitted his first instinct was not necessarily to be overjoyed.

Then he started thinking about the myriad other events in the Atlanta area over Labor Day weekend, all of which syphon potential fans and the money they spend away from the 1.54-mile track.

"We knew we had to do something with this Labor Day date," Clark said in an exclusive interview with FOXSports.com. "When we started this — we ran the first Labor Day race in 2009 — a lot of these other events either didn"t exist or they weren’t nearly as large as they are now."

Clark said the competition for the entertainment dollar is fierce these days.

"And it’s not just Labor Day weekend. We had the College Football Hall of Fame open last week," said Clark. "Here in about 10 days, Garth Brooks sold out seven shows — 140,000 tickets at $75 each — that sucked a lot of entertainment money out of this market. And it’s just continuous."

Then there’s the biggest obstacle of them all, football. As much as southern fans love NASCAR, and they do, college football is like a religion here. Labor Day is the opening weekend of college football season, which is a huge challenge for AMS. And it was about to get worse.

"When we found out the NFL is going to open its season on Labor Day next year, that was kind of the final deal," said Clark. "So we started looking at options."

Speedway Motorsports Inc., the parent company of AMS, owns eight tracks where the Sprint Cup Series races.

"The tough part is, when you own eight tracks, you have a very limited number of (schedule) holes to fill. Something’s got to give."

Darlington back to Labor Day weekend on 2015 schedule

In this case, NASCAR allowed SMI to move its spring Bristol date from mid-March to mid-April next year, with Darlington getting its old Labor Day date back and Phoenix moving from the second race of 2015 to the fourth. That left the second weekend open for Atlanta.

And while weather will likely be cool in Atlanta early next March, for years, NASCAR ran its second race of the season in Richmond or in Rockingham, N.C.

The other advantage is the new date could bring in some returning race fans from Daytona Speedweeks, where NASCAR will race the weekend before.

And on the Saturday of the NASCAR weekend, Atlanta will run a doubleheader, with the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, followed by Sprint Cup Happy Hour and then the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, all for the price of a single ticket.

"They’re all excited about that," Clark said of his ticketholders. "I’m excited about it. It’s going to be a pretty full day."

VIDEO: Analyzing the 2015 Sprint Cup Series schedule