The Atlanta Speedway, one of the country’s most historic race tracks, has been a part of the city’s culture for more than 90 years. It was originally constructed in 1914 as a combination horse race course and military drill ground. During World War II, the Atlanta Jockey Club, which owned and operated the track, turned it into a combined aircraft and tanks proving grounds. After the war, the track remained a fixture in the city’s sporting landscape. In 1956, the Atlanta Jockey Club constructed a brand-new, state-of-the-art grandstand that still stands today as one of the most technologically advanced in all of sports.
For decades, the Atlanta Speedway was an important piece of Atlanta’s culture. However, as the city has changed and evolved, the importance of this historic track has diminished. There are still a lot of people who enjoy going there, especially during the summer months. However, for the average Atlantan, the track no longer holds the same allure that it did decades ago. If you’re thinking about going there any time soon, then read on. Here’s a look at the history of The Atlanta Speedway and its current status in the city’s sports landscape.
The Early Years: 1914-1934
The Atlanta Speedway was originally constructed in 1914 by the Atlanta Jockey Club along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Atlanta’s northern suburb. The club wanted to establish a winter sports destination for its members. It also wanted to provide a means of both competition and entertainment for the Atlantan people of the area. The facility opened with a track and a football field. It was later expanded to include a baseball diamond and a hockey rink.
In its early years, the Atlanta Speedway was a popular place for Atlantans to gather and socialize. It also played an integral role in the city’s sporting landscape. The horse racing at the track was very popular, and even the smallest children knew and cared about the horses. The Jockey Club even established a hospital wing at the track that was dedicated to the care of the sport’s horses. It’s unclear how many people were treated there, but it’s safe to assume that it wasn’t a small number. However, despite its popularity, the Atlanta Speedway couldn’t avoid the economic woes that befell the entire racing industry in the early 20th century.
World War II: 1935-1945
The horse racing at the Atlanta Speedway was halted during World War II. Local governments and private businesses encouraged their residents to join the war effort, and many of the city’s best and brightest volunteered for military service. When the war ended, the Atlanta Jockey Club faced an economic rebirth. The horse racing industry was in shambles, and there was a real need for a new and improved track. The war also gave the club the opportunity to redevelop their sports facilities. They expanded the track by adding a straightaway and expanded the grandstand. They also built new stands on the opposite side of the track.
The Atlanta Jockey Club turned the track into a combination aircraft and tanks proving ground. It was used for both military and civilian aircraft. Even after the war, the track still held such historical significance that at one point it was proposed to name the football stadium after Pemberton Meadows, who owned a horse farm and training stable near the track. The proposal never came to fruition.
The Post-War Years: 1945-Present
After the war, the Atlanta Jockey Club used the track for several more years, but it was no longer a priority. The club turned their attention to other ventures. However, a few of their horses were still trained at the track. During this time, the track was used mostly for high school graduation ceremonies and youth sports. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that the club decided to rebuild the track again. This time, they constructed a brand new, state-of-the-art grandstand.
This was done in part because of the growing popularity of professional sports, which meant more people were willing to spend money on tickets. The new grandstand included four levels of seating, with the top two being covered by a canopy. It was the largest and most modern stadium of its kind in the area. In addition to a grandstand, the Atlanta club also constructed a bar and restaurant that hung over the racing surface. It wasn’t long before the new, state-of-the-art grandstand attracted crowds from around the area. Attendance at the track increased from 400 to 700 per week in the mid-1950s to 1,500 to 2,000 per week in the late 1950s.
The Atlanta Jockey Club continued to rebuild the track in the years that followed. They constructed a new infield, completely renovating the area around the base of the grandstands. They laid down a new track in the infield and resurfaced the old one with synthetic track material. The entire infield was then enclosed with a synthetic material wall that prevented rain from damaging the track during both practice and actual racing. This was all in an attempt to make the track ready for some of the most famous horse races of all time – the Preakness Stakes, which is the second leg of the triple crown. The racing world was looking forward to the return of the Preakness Stakes following a 70-year hiatus. Unfortunately, the new track wasn’t ready, and the great Maryland Racing Festival was postponed.
The Atlanta Jockey Club built the new Preakness Stakes, which was staged a week later in the great state of Georgia. While the new track was an improvement over the old one, it still lacked the finishing touches that would make it perfect. The new track was also a mixture of dirt and concrete, which made car repairs a hassle. This led to the cancellation of the rest of the season. The following year, the track was renamed Bobby Jones Stadium in honor of the club’s legendary former president.
The Bobby Jones Stadium Years: 1965-2001
Bobby Jones Stadium, which opened its doors for the 1965 season, was one of the most exciting, if not the most exciting in Atlanta history. It was named after the club’s president and famous for being the site of the first-ever college football game between Georgia and Florida. The stadium was designed with the idea of making the entire experience as close to a real football game as possible. Jones wanted the experience to be as authentic as possible, which meant a lot of modified seating and a reduced overall capacity of 40,000. This made it, in effect, a “small” college stadium. The end zone in the stadium was also reduced in size so that it would be the same size as a regulation football field. This was to make things more realistic for attendees.
Despite the name, however, Bobby Jones Stadium wasn’t constructed with just any old college football team in mind. The Atlanta Jockey Club had a legendary football team named after itself: the Atlanta Falcons. The team had only recently moved from the city’s Municipal Stadium, where it had played since 1942. This stadium had become too small for the club, which led to it playing some of its home games at the Georgia Dome. The team had previously played all of its home games at various venues across the city.
The Atlanta Jockey Club wanted to make sure their team had a suitable venue for home games, and it didn’t get to choose which one. They decided to give them all a try, and the result was Bobby Jones Stadium.
The Atlanta Falcons set the world of sports on fire when they played their first game at Bobby Jones Stadium. Crowds in the 35,000 range were not unusual, and there were days when the stands were full. The team went on to win the first championship in the National Football League (NFL) that year. They would continue to dominate the NFL for the next several years, winning eight straight division titles and appearing in 11 Super Bowls before moving into the Georgia Dome in 1966.