Major Events it Currently Hosts
- Petit Le Mans featuring the American Le Mans Series
- Drift Atlanta featuring the Formula D Series
- Grand-Am Road Racing Championship
- “The Mitty” Historic Races
- AMA Superbikes
Opened in 1970, Road Atlanta, located in the wooded hills northeast of Georgia’s capital, immediately became of America’s premier road course. After a debut sports prototype race featuring the likes of Vic Elford, Denis Hulme and Peter Revson, faster series began to arrive including Can-Am, Formula 5000, IMSA Camel GT and Trans Am.
More recently, the track was purchased by billionaire Don Panoz and made the headquarters of his racing empire including Panoz Cars and the American Le Mans Series. In addition, millions of dollars were poured into modernizing the facilities including a new tunnel into the infield and an entirely new pits and paddock area on the inside or the start/finish straight.
Currently, Road Atlanta hosts the blue riband Petit Le Mans (PLM) endurance race as well as the Big Kahuna AMA Superbike event, Formula Drift’s Drift Atlanta event and the well-regarded Walter Mitty Historic Races. On top of all that, the track also numerous holds SCCA, NASA, club events and plays host to the Skip Barber Driving School.
The track is located approximately 50 miles away from downtown Atlanta just a few miles away from I-85, the main highway connecting Atlanta with Greenville, SC (home of Michelin’s North American HQ) and Charlotte. With small exceptions for motorcycle safety, all touring series use the full layout as seen to the right.
The track is known for its undulating elevation change with The Esses and turn 11-12 complex featuring dramatic dropoffs and blind apexes. The backstraight between turn 7 and 10 is where competitors reach the highest speeds, leading right into the prime overtaking zone of turn 10.
How to Get There
Whether you’re coming from I-85 to the east or I-985 to the west, you’ll eventually end up on Winder Highway that runs right past the front straight. Road Atlanta is fairly straightforward to get to but it’s worth noting that there have been massive backups going all the way down Winder Highway back to I-85 on recent Petit Le Mans racedays. If you want to make sure you’re well positioned to see the start of the race, you’ll want to ensure you arrive at the track before 9 AM.
Parking at Road Atlanta is easy. You can either park for free at nearby Lanier Speedway and ride a shuttle bus to the track or you can park inside the track for between $35-40. If you get there early enough on PLM raceday (6-7 AM), you can get a prime parking spot near one of the paved track exit roads allowing for a quick pre-traffic getaway after the race is over. My personal favorite place to park was in the turn 10b area, just behind the reserved RV parking.
Where to Watch
As of the 2012 race, there are no reserved seats at Road Atlanta.
You can spectate and/or camp along almost all of the 2.54-mile circuit allowing for a near-infinite number of viewing points. That said, Road Atlanta has some well-known areas that both have great views and good facilities for fans.
Spectator Hill: The most well-known of Road Atlanta spectating areas is Spectator Hill overlooking turn 5 with a view all-the-way back through The Esses. This area is extremely well-equipped for fans with its own concession vendors, bathroom facilities, HD video screen and even a reasonably audible public address speakers.
- Turn 10: This is the chicane located at the bottom of the hill after the back straight. This area has a stadium like viewing area on both sides of the track. With its closer proximity to the paddock and main vendor areas, this area of the track gets very crowded during the race.
In addition to those two areas, there are grandstands located on the outside of the start/finish straight for those who want to see the flags fly or just want to watch the action on pit lane.
While those are the most-crowded spectating areas, feel free to explore the track. Just about everywhere is accessible to fans. The area around the crossover bridge after turn 10 is a popular area for photographers. Many of the largest RVs cluster around turns 6-7 at the “bottom” of the circuit.
In terms of moving around Road Atlanta, a sturdy pair of shoes is definitely recommended. The track does offer a shuttle service between the main vendor area, Spectator Hill and turns 6-7, but on raceday, it’s almost always overcrowded and doesn’t come nearly as often as the track promises. If you tire of waiting for the shuttle to Spectator Hill, you can walk up the massively steep hill that separates the two areas but it may be a bit much for those older in age or for parents carrying around little kids. All that being said, you can absolutely get where you want to go at Road Atlanta on-foot, it might just take a while and it might leave you regretting the Chik-fil-A chicken biscuits you ate for breakfast that morning.
At least for the ALMS events, paddock access is free. One thing to keep in mind is that Road Atlanta has two paddocks and pit lanes, one each on the inside and outside of the circuit. The “main-event” series each weekend uses the paved paddock on the inside of the track, while the support series use the paddock and pits on the outside of the track. You can easily move between the two using the adjacent pedestrian bridge crossing the track.
Where to Eat
Vendors sell food all over the circuit with clusters located around Spectator Hill, the vendor midway, and turn 10. One notable stand is the Chik-fil-A stand that sets up on the inside of the circuit just after the vehicle crossover bridge between turns 10 and 12.
In terms of places outside the circuit, the following places are well-liked by fans on race weekends.
- Key West Bar and Grill in Braselton, which specialises in seafood with slightly Caribbean style.
- Peckers Restaurant in Hoschton, which features chicken wings and other traditional “bar food.”
- Connie’s Real BBQ in Hoschton, which has ribs that are reported to be the fan-favorite over the pulled chicken and pork.
Where to Stay
You can camp all over Road Atlanta, and for the big events like PLM, many people do. The nicest RV sites are down in turn 6-7 in the paved skidpad area, but RVs line the much of the track during Petit Le Mans weekend. In addition, you have tent campers all along the areas close to the track and even in areas deep in the woods between The Esses and the back straight. If you have personal experience camping at Road Atlanta, please let us know your experiences and tips in the comments and we will include them here in the site.
The hotels closest to the track fill up quickly with teams and officials, but if you’re willing to drive a bit to the track it isn’t hard to find hotel rooms in Atlanta’s sprawling northern suburbs like Flowery Branch, Duluth and Lawrenceville. If you’re the kind of fan who likes getting to a track early and staying late, the drive to the track (even if it’s an hour or so) will be peaceful and likely unbothered by Atlanta’s (and I-85′s) much-ballyhooed traffic. When I attended PLM in 2010 and 2011, I stayed both times in Duluth and found that by leaving early, I had no problems or traffic on the way to the track.
- As with any race along the Atlantic coast, check the forecasts and pack accordingly. In recent years, Petit Le Mans has had 90-degree heat and been called off due to flooding rains. Weather can turn quickly in this part of the country, so be prepared to pack both extra sunscreen and rain gear and then end up using both.
- Also on the weather, remember that Petit Le Mans starts at midday and ends in the darkness (in October), so it’s not unusual for it to get quite cool as nighttime arrives. Pack accordingly or risk a very chilly conclusion to the race.
- Bring comfy shoes and shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. The Georgia red clay in this part of the country blows around if the weather has been particularly dry.
- As with any track that doesn’t require buying reserved seats, you should take advantage and explore the circuit to find your favorite spots. If it’s your first time, use the less-crowded practice and qualifying days to help decide where you want to spend your time during the race.