Event Program: 2023 Atlanta SpeedTour
Destination: North of Atlanta
By Rich Taylor
When it comes to car culture, Atlanta, Georgia is hot! It’s surrounded by race tracks, race shops, race teams, race schools, race museums and even race-themed restaurants. Indeed, there are so many auto-centric venues, I’ve had to divide them in half.
Start with weekend reservations at Chateau Elan Winery & Resort (chateauelan.com, 678-425-0900). Chateau Elan is just 7 miles from Road Atlanta, and is the place to stay for the Atlanta SpeedTour at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, March 24 through 26, 2023.
Former track owner Don Panoz, developed 3500 acres into upscale Chateau Elan Golf and Country Club adjacent to a seriously classy Francoise. Chateau Elan’s luxurious rooms, gourmet restaurant and amazing wine list are about as far as you can get from stereotypical Deep South grits, collard greens and chicken-fried steak.
The Panoz family sold Road Atlanta to NASCAR in 2012 along with IMSA, American Le Mans Series, Sebring and Panoz Racing Schools, while Mosport went to Ron Fellows and Carlo Fidani in a separate deal. Don Panoz died in 2018, but his son Danny still owns Elan Motorsports and Panoz LLC, both still headquartered nearby at 1089 Georgia Route 124, Hoschton, GA 30548 (panoz.com, 678-425-1539).
Between the two companies—plus Panoz-owned Van Diemen and G-Force Technologies—Panoz has built everything from the Freeman Thomas-styled AIV Roadster to Indycars to the Ben Bowlby-designed Deltawing Project 56 that shocked Le Mans in 2012. There’s a terrific museum of Panoz cars adjacent to the Panoz factory/salesroom.
Skip Barber Racing School runs a limited schedule at Road Atlanta (skipbarber.com), as does Hooked On Driving (firstname.lastname@example.org).
There are a number of other groups organizing “Track Days” at Road Atlanta, including Mercedes AMG and Lexus, both reached through your local dealer. BMW Car Club of America (bmwcca.org) and Porsche Car Club of America (pca.org) also organize frequent driving events at Road Atlanta, as do independent for-profit companies including apexdrivingevents.com, chintrackdays.com, davidmurry.com, justtrackit.net, jzillatrackdays.com and mvptracktime.com. A schedule of all these Road Atlanta dates is at roadatlanta.com.
In 2014, Atlanta-based racer Jim Downing bought Lanier Speedway and turned it into Lanier RacePlex (lanierraceplex.com, 770-965-9179).
Literally across the street from the main entrance to Road Atlanta, RacePlex is a .375 mile paved oval with a completely-paved infield called “Black Lake” that allows for an infinite number of track configurations.
About 17 miles East of Road Atlanta and RacePlex is Winder-Barrow Speedway, at 330 Dunahoo Road, Winder, GA 30680 (winderbarrowspeedway.com, 770-867-6327). This is down-home American, grassroots dirt-oval racing, essentially unchanged since the days of Barney Oldfield.
An easy 40 mile drive West from Road Atlanta gets you to Dawsonville, GA, home of 1988 NASCAR Champion William Clyde “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” Elliott and his son, 2020 NASCAR Champion William Clyde “Chase” Elliot II. Bill and Chase are one of only three father/son NASCAR Champion families (the other two are Lee/Richard Petty and Ned/Dale Jarrett).
You can make an easy day trip to Dawsonville and back, or you can stay overnight near Dawsonville. Amicalola Falls Lodge (amicalolafallslodge.com, 706-344-1500) is the destination of choice. The Lodge has traditional hotel rooms, private cabins and campsites. The Maple Restaurant overlooks Amicolola Falls, a 729 foot waterfall that’s the tallest East of the Mississippi.
Start your Dawsonville experience by stopping for lunch at The Dawsonville Pool Room (dawsonvillepoolroom.com, 706-265-2792). This is a burger, fries ‘n Coke restaurant dedicated to Awesome Bill and Chase. Each time an Elliott wins a race, the Pool Room crew winds up their fire siren to celebrate.
Right down the street is the newly-expanded Georgia Racing Hall of Fame (georgiaracinghof.com 706-216-7223), which has a large collection of historic NASCAR race cars and memorabilia plus a working distillery and retail store meant to give you a lasting taste of NASCAR’s origins in the illegal moonshine business.
In the Dawsonville suburbs is an underappreciated gem, Atlanta Motorsports Park (atlantamotorsportspark.com, 678-381-8527). Owned by go-kart racer Jeremy Porter, AMP includes a professional 0.83 kart racing circuit, but more importantly, a world-class 2.0 mile, 16-turn road course designed by German circuit architect Hermann Tilke.
Atlanta Motorsports Park offers a passel of fun things to do. There’s a motorsport club, Primal Racing School that starts with BMW sedans and advances to Radical SR1 sports-racers, DriveStrong Teen Driving Program, go-karts, track days and regularly scheduled events. You can rent the skidpad for car set-up, the track for testing or the whole complex for almost anything automotive.
Recently relocated to Atlanta Motorsport Park, you’ll also find Motor Werks Racing (motorwerksracing.com, 770-886-0686). This huge, immaculate and very professional shop specializes in hot-rodded Porsches, especially 944s.
About 50 miles from Dawsonville and 70 miles from Road Atlanta is historic Dixie Speedway, in Woodstock, GA (dixiespeedway.com, 707-926-5315). Built in 1969, Dixie Speedway is a classic 3/8th mile clay oval track in the center of a 150 acre field. Depending on the night, you might see Outlaw Sprints, AMA motorcycles, Touring Stocks, Monster Trucks or Demo Derby.
You can sit in the Grandstands or even rent a climate-controlled Suite high above the action.. But for the classic Southern Dirt Track experience, pay $25 to back your pickup against the fence and “tailgate party.” Strictly BYO.