By Anthony Gagliano
CECIL -- When the Hooters Pro Cup Series agreed to come to the South Georgia Motorsports Park, ground had yet to be broken on the facility. On Monday, trailers sat in a row on the infield and racers tuned up their cars in anticipation of the speedway's debut.
In 11 days, there will be short track racing in South Georgia.
"I'll feel like it's one of the biggest accomplishments of my life," said Shad Dean, who along with his father, Larry, are the owners/builders/developers of the park. "Finally, we'll be 100 percent finished with the facility."
While SGMP has featured drag races for almost a year, the Hooters' event will be the inaugural race on the speedway. Drivers informally tested out the track for the first time on Thursday and Saturday before Monday's official Test/Media Day. The Hooters' race will start at 7:30 p.m. on March 12, televised on tape delay March 26 on the Speed Channel.
"In the racing community, obviously there's the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series," said Tim Southers, public relations director of United Speed Alliance Racing. "In the racing world, we call that the Big Three. We'd like to think we're knocking on the door.
"We say that as analogy. But when you look at these cars out here, if you've ever watched a NASCAR Busch Series race, you're basically seeing a Busch car out here at South Georgia Motorsports Park."
The Hooters/USAR race will be a 250-lap affair around the 1/2-mile oval with 36 cars running for the flag. The 3,300-pound cars are required to make a pit stop for refueling and change at least two tires.
The Pro Cup Series is divided into two divisions, running 30 races on 21 different tracks. According to Southers, the Hooters circuit has been running at the Peach State Speedway in Jefferson since 1997 and would love to build a similar, solid connection in Cook County.
"We want to come here and really make it successful," Southers said. "Hopefully, we can make this an annual event where everybody knows the South Georgia park every March or whenever that the Hooters guys are coming back next year and I can't wait to see them."
The desire to see racing in South Georgia is expected to provide a big boost for Cook County. With an average attendance of 4,000 for the Hooters/USAR Series, Southers said the race could result in an economic impact of $350,000 to a half a million dollars for the area. With 90 events planned for the season and attendance estimates of 200,000, SGMP projects to have a $37 million effect on the community.
"This is a one of a kind facility, and I hope all of you who are members of the community and live here and work here are proud of this and take it on as part of your own," speedway manager Craig Armstrong said.
"The sky's the limit," Dean said.
The Hooters Pro Cup also offers a cheaper alternative to NASCAR. According to Southers, the entire family can attend a Hooters event for the same price as a single ticket to the Atlanta Motor Speedway. At SGMP, adult tickets will cost $25 each for the race, while children seats (ages 5-12) cost $15.
The raceway also saves on cost. Southers said as the manager of a track in Hickory, N.C., he paid $352,000 for the last Busch race there but SGMP wouldn't even have to pay 1/3 of that for the Hooters Pro Cup.
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