By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
It was the talk of the town as people wondered about the long lines of cars and the stream of people seen along Curtis Road Saturday evening, March 30.
According to the manager of Atmore Dragway, the clogged roadways leading to the racing venue were the result of a springtime ritual that will probably be repeated in about three weeks.
“It’s just a phenomenon that normally happens twice a year,” said Larry Coulter, who manages the drag strip. “It happens around spring break, then again at Easter, when it’s even bigger. On Easter Sunday, folks go to church, and when they get out, they come out to the track and walk up and down, just strolling and having a good time.
“When people see that the big racing event is coming up, they get on social media and tell all their friends that there is going to be a party in Atmore, and the whole area comes.”
Coulter said last Saturday’s crowd was one of the largest he has seen for the first installment of the two-part influx of racing fans and others. The overflow crowd taxed the extra preparations that he and other track employees had taken in anticipation of such a gathering.
“We were overwhelmed,” he said. “Cars were backed up from Interstate 65, to Wind Creek (where country singer Sammy Kershaw performed that same night) and all along Curtis Road. Some of them parked at Wind Creek and walked the mile or so to the track. We had extra porta-potties brought in, and we had six police officers directing traffic.”
Coulter said he still doesn’t know exactly how many fans made their way into the venue, but he is sure it was a huge number.
“There were a lot of people here,” he said. “I had 1,000 tickets to the roll, and we were so busy we just quit counting after we used up six rolls. We had to turn away probably 2,000 people because we reached the limit that the fire marshal set. A lot of them came for the races, but a lot just came to just walk around and have a good time.”
He admitted that law enforcement officials might not have appreciated the scope of the event, but said he felt sure local businesses did.
“The sheriff and the highway patrol were not happy with me,” the track manager laughed. “But all the hotels were full, and the restaurants and gas stations stayed busy all night.”
He added that track employees were still cleaning up after the huge turnout.
“It will take six people five days just to clean up the trash that was left behind,” he said two days after the event at the 40-acre entertainment site. “We’ve already emptied out our dumpsters four or five times this week, and we’re still picking up trash.”
Despite the clogged traffic arteries that prompted some fans to park at Wind Creek and walk the mile or so to the track, Coulter said everything went really well.
“We didn’t have any accidents on the track, and everybody behaved,” he said. “None of the fans got hurt, and safety is number-one with us, so all-in-all it was a good evening.”