ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

cloudy-day
62°
Mostly Cloudy
H 64° L 47°
  • cloudy-day
    62°
    Current Conditions
    Mostly Cloudy. H 64° L 47°
  • cloudy-day
    64°
    Today
    Mostly Cloudy. H 64° L 47°
  • rain-day
    58°
    Tomorrow
    Rain. H 58° L 48°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb news on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb traffic on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb weather on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

Auto Racing
AMS fan day with Wallace and Suarez shows there's hope
Close

AMS fan day with Wallace and Suarez shows there's hope

AMS fan day with Wallace and Suarez shows there's hope
Bubba Wallace (left) interrupts Daniel Suarez's (right) media session to say hello during the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500/Atlanta Motor Speedway Pit Party.

AMS fan day with Wallace and Suarez shows there's hope

On a morning that started in the high 20s in Metro Atlanta, Atlanta Motor Speedway officials had to sigh. There would be no ticket voucher “Good Weather Guarantee” for the free Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Pit Party in Norcross. But that worry subsided when fans showed up in force an hour before the 10 a.m. kickoff time Saturday. 

The rap on NASCAR for the last 13 years has been the declining attendance and television ratings. The 2018 season’s returns didn’t turn around that notion. But events like Saturday’s show that potential for a comeback for the 71-year-old sport is a possibility. 

QT, Coca-Cola, and AMS arranged a DJ, tons of giveaways, food samples, a driving simulator, a tall inflatable slide, face painting, and drivers Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez to sign autographs. This soiree on the corner of Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Brook Hollow Parkway, just west of I-85, drew in many passersby, sure. But it also pulsated on the calendars of the diehard north Georgia race fans, who had to choose between this party and the CRA Speedfest super late model race a couple hundred miles south in Cordele with Kyle Busch and Harrison Burton. 

21-year-old Diego Castoneda took an almost two-hour bicycle ride from Lawrenceville, in the freezing cold, to be the first in line for driver autographs at 9:30. 

Close

Fan dedication

"To have all these cultures in NASCAR is huge, because not many drivers get an opportunity in this sport," Castoneda said, when asked about the significance to him of having Suarez, a Mexico native, in NASCAR. He put Wallace’s autographed hero card in a trapper keeper notebook full of driver cards. "It's an honor to get every driver you can. You never know when they're going to be big or when they are going to retire. Some of these autographs are going to be valuable. For me, it's just an experience."

Castoneda was one of hundreds who waited in the long lines for, first, Wallace and then Suarez. He is the rare Generation Z NASCAR fan. He said his dad had him watching races from the age of eight and similarly had the goal of getting each driver’s signature. 

The 25-year-old Wallace, NASCAR’s only black driver, got generational in his media session, noting that his “Young Guns” class has a certain understanding of and with fans. 

"I think the younger generation coming up through is changing the game a little bit, giving the fans something more to latch onto,” though Wallace notes that this will take time, as he and his cohorts adapt to the highly competitive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. “You've got the dominance from the older guys, obviously. But it takes seat time for us to get comfortable." 

Wallace is a big believer in the power that social media has in engaging fans. He starred in a Facebook Watch documentary before his rookie season a year ago and is very active on Twitter and Instagram. "We try to do as much as we can with the fans. Me, personally, I love doing stuff like this and when it's in-market [in the same city as a NASCAR track], you go out to dinner and you run into fans. It's just all about being engaging with them." 

Steve Letscher loves Wallace’s vibe. The white 47-year-old doesn’t stand out as the top candidate to have Wallace’s unbridled millennial persona as his favorite driver. But Letscher diverted a two-day drive from South Dakota to Charlotte, to arrive for the Wallace appearance. He had Wallace sign 10 diecasts, each of a different paint scheme from his rookie campaign. 

"I got about an hour outside of Kansas City and it was pretty early in the afternoon and I thought that since I had so many cars for Bubba, that I could make it down here and get some signed from him.” Letscher blew off seeing a friend in Shreveport to come to Atlanta, after learning of Wallace’s Georgia appearance on his Twitter page. “So I decided at the very last minute to keep driving yesterday afternoon. I was up 15 hours yesterday. I stopped about a half hour north of Nashville last night at about midnight, got about three hours of sleep, got up, got a shower, got on the road, and got here at about 11:30." After the Pit Party, Letscher will further show his dedication by driving to Charlotte to hang with his buddies for a week at the NASCAR Hall of Fame ceremonies. He has about 1,600 diecast race cars in his basement, he says. 

Close

Long haul to meet a hero

Letscher thinks that the key to outsiders getting passionate about drivers is the wheelmen’s personalities. Undoubtedly, fans in the last 15 years have complained of the lack of color drivers show. The likes of Wallace, Suarez, Ryan Blaney, Noah Gragson, and others are trying to bring that back. 

Suarez, who just turned 27, is not necessarily high on the overall NASCAR popularity charts. But he begins his third Cup season with a large legion of Latin American fans, as he is the only full-time NASCAR driver from Mexico. Telemundo and Mundo Hispanico covered him at the event. And several hispanic fans circled behind Suarez with enthusiasm, as he spoke to the media. 

"For me, as a Mexican driver in the United States...you're always missing something [not] racing at home. I used to race in Mexico for a long time and I was used to racing in front of my family and a lot of friends. That was a hell of an experience. I've been missing that for a while,” Suarez explained fluently in his second language. “Now, for the last few years in Cup, more people are getting to know myself and things I am doing in the sport. It feels so good to come back to places like here in Atlanta where there are a lot of Hispanic people and places like Texas, California, Phoenix - all these places. I say this a lot: I don't get to race at home, but these places feel like home. I'm just very happy to be here to spend a few hours with a lot of great friends and I look forward to getting back here in a month." 

Suarez says he has a chance to attend Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta and just may do it. And, like Wallace, he loves chances to actually talk with fans. "It feels so good. I wish we were coming to Atlanta more often, instead of just once every year. It feels so good to be back and to spend some time with the fans. When I am in the racetrack, it is a little bit harder to have these 10 to 15 second conversations with the fans, because you are going. You don't have a lot of time to do this stuff; you have to drive the racecar and focus on that. I really enjoy times like these, where I am not thinking about the racecar, I'm not thinking about the race. I'm just thinking about having a good time with them and that's what it's all about.”

Fans at the Pit Party had a great time, young and old, dancing to top 40 and hip-hop music from the last few years. Lines for each attraction stretched dozens deep. There wasn’t one mullet or country song played - not that those aren’t a large part of the racing experience. This was a jumping, energetic event that never lulled and saw a large cross-section of age, color, class, and style. 

Newly-minted AMS GM Brandon Hutchinson looked impressed, as did his deputies. But when I told VP of Marketing and Promotions, Dustin Bixby, I was surprised at the turnout, I was even more surprised with his answer. 

“I’m not! I know Atlanta has a ton of race fans.” 

Hutchinson’s and Bixby’s jobs over these next four weeks will be to get this fan base charged up enough to drive to Hampton for the race weekend. If Saturday served as any indicator, the tide may be turning. 

The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race highlights the February 22nd-24th race weekend with all three NASCAR national series in action at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Get tickets and learn more at AtlantaMotorSpeedway.com. 

Read More

News

  • A passenger attempted to breach security at a TSA checkpoint at Orlando International Airport, an airport spokesperson said. >> Read more trending news  UPDATE 1:50 p.m. EST: Orlando police said a subject has been arrested after an attempted security breach at Orlando International Airport on Saturday.  The airport said security screening and shuttle services have resumed. UPDATE 1:40 p.m. EST: WFTV reporter Michael Lopardi sees long line for gates 1-59 stretches all the way down the corridor past the food court. Original report: A passenger attempted to breach security at a TSA checkpoint at Orlando International Airport, an airport spokesperson said. The incident caused a security scare at around noon Saturday, WFTV-TV reported. This attempted breach comes two weeks after a TSA worker died after jumping from a balcony inside the airport. Airport officials said the incident occurred at the checkpoint for gates 1-59. Law enforcement sources said the suspect was taken down with a stun gun. Officials said the screening process was paused and will resume. This is a breaking news story that will be updated as more information comes in.
  • A well-known Memphis rapper is facing drug, gun and theft charges in Shelby County, Tennessee. >> Read more trending news  Shelby County Sheriff's Office Deputies say James Baker, 22, better known as BlocBoy JB, is facing multiple charges. The rapper is wanted for possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia, a convicted felon in possession of a handgun\ and theft of property, according to SCSO. BlocBoy JB is widely known for his hit song with Drake 'Look Alive.' He's expected to perform in Memphis in May.
  • A Springfield man is behind bars after he allegedly tried to rob a Hardee’s on Valentine’s Day. >> Read more trending news  Court records say 35-year-old Eric Dean walked into the restaurant just after 8 p.m. with a green and black bandanna covering on his face and threatened an employee with a butcher knife. When the employee declined to give him any money, Dean said he had a gun and would shoot employees if they didn’t do what he wanted, court records state. A different employee chased Dean out of the restaurant, and he fled the scene on his bike. Jamie Skaggs, an employee at Hardee’s said she wasn’t working at the the time of the incident, but was concerned about her co-workers who were. She said the employee who was threatened with the knife was a little shaken up, but seemed to be doing alright. “I wanted to make sure they were OK,” she said. “I’m glad he didn’t get anything.” She said she was surprised when her manager confirmed the news she had seen on Facebook, but she wasn’t surprised when she learned who the suspect was. She said she’s familiar with the man. “I was friends with him for years a while back,” Skaggs said. Records say Springfield police officers caught up with Dean in the 2200 block of Clifton Avenue shortly after the incident. Court records say Dean eventually confessed to the crime. “He advised he has been going through some tough times right now financially and was only trying to get enough money to pay his electric bill. He also said that his current girlfriend was pressuring him to come up with money soon or she was going to leave him,” an affidavit says. Officers found the knife that Dean allegedly used in the robbery in a nearby driveway, with a black backpack that was used to conceal the knife. Dean was jailed and appeared in Clark County Municipal Court on charges of aggravated robbery and tampering with evidence. Dean told visiting judge Thomas Hanna that he lost his job within the last week. Not guilty pleas were entered for him and his bond was set at $75,000.
  • On the same day Colin Kaepernick and the NFL agreed to end Kaepernick's collusion grievance against the league, a Hall of Famer suggested the former 49ers quarterback could be Tom Brady's replacement when Brady's time comes to an end. >> Read more trending news  Former wide receiver Cris Carter brought up the topic on “First Things First” on Friday morning, saying the Patriots may not need to look at the quarterback class in the 2019 NFL Draft as they begin to think about a future without Brady under center. 'I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots looked at (Kaepernick),' Carter said. 'The Krafts are very, very fond of Colin Kaepernick. If someone will do it, it will be the people in New England.' In the past, Patriots owner Robert Kraft has shown his support for Kaepernick, telling the New York Times that he would 'very much like to see him in the league.' Kaepernick threw 72 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in five seasons as a starter, and also ran for 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with one Super Bowl appearance to his name.
  • A massive drug operation with ties to a Mexican drug cartel resulted in the arrest of six immigrants in the country illegally. >> Read more trending news  Six men are behind bars, accused of running an elaborate drug trafficking operation in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties. The man the suspects are tied to is the main rival of El Chapo's drug cartel. The operation was working under the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The human rights group Justice in Mexico reported last year that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel started gaining power after El Chapo's arrest. Federal officials said more than 1,800 grams of meth were delivered from a luxury home in Statesville in August and October of 2018. The person who lived there, Oscar Rangel-Gutierrez, is an alleged high-level cartel member. Rangel-Gutierrez’s parents lived in a large home in Troutman, according to the indictment. Agents said a credible informant told the Troutman Police Department in 2014 that large amounts of cocaine were being stored at the address. Court documents indicated that Rangel-Gutierrez and the five other suspects were in the country illegally. Agents said Rangel-Gutierrez transported 30 kilograms of cocaine and an unspecified large quantity of methamphetamine in a one-month period from Texas to Georgia and North Carolina. An apartment in Hidden Valley, a home in Derita and another home in east Charlotte are tied to the investigation, according to court documents. Misty Joyner lives near the home in east Charlotte where agents said Rangel-Gutierrez stored drug proceeds while he and another suspect went to a nightclub. She can't believe her neighbors are potentially involved “Just devastating,” Joyner said. “They were good people.” Four of the suspects were in federal court uptown Thursday. They waived their preliminary hearings. Two other suspects were arrested in Florence, South Carolina and Cleveland. El Chapo was convicted of drug crimes earlier this week and will spend the rest of his life in maximum security prison. His cartel was once the biggest supplier of drugs to the U.S. Arrested: Rodolfo Martinez Oscar Rangel-Gutierrez Raul Rangel- Gutierrez Regulo Rangel-Gutierrez Francisco Garcia-Martinez Rigoberto Rangel-Gutierrez
  • The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of two women, both U.S. citizens, who say a border patrol agent unlawfully detained them outside a Montana convenience store because he heard them speaking Spanish. >> Read more trending news  Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez were at the convenience store when the border agent, identified as Paul O’Neal, approached them, according to the federal lawsuit filed Thursday. O’Neal allegedly commented on Hernandez’s accent and then asked the women where they were born. Hernandez was born in California and Suda was born in Texas, the ACLU said. The women showed O’Neal their valid Montana driver’s licenses. At that point, the lawsuit said O’Neal detained the women in the convenience store’s parking lot. The women then began taking video of O’Neal on their cellphones. 'Ma'am, the reason I asked you for your ID is because I came in here and I saw that you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here,' O'Neill said in the video. The two were detained for about 40 minutes, according to the lawsuit. The women’s ACLU lawyers said O’Neal should have let them go as soon as they identified themselves as U.S. citizens. In detaining them, the lawsuit argues that O’Neal violated the women’s Fourth Amendment rights barring unreasonable search and seizures. The lawsuit also argues the women were racially profiled, a violation of the Fifth Amendment right to due process. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Jason Givens declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said in an email to The New York Times, “lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.” In May, CBP spokesman Andrew Meehan told ABC News that speaking Spanish alone 'is not enough' to pull someone over or ask for ID. However, he said it's possible O'Neal 'very well could have been following procedure.' According to a statement from the ACLU, the experience was “humiliating and traumatizing” for the women. It said the women have been “shunned and harassed” by other town residents. “This unjustified and discriminatory seizure is part of a longstanding pattern of abuse by local CBP agents. It is illegal and must stop,” said Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU of Montana. Suda and Hernandez are asking for an unspecified amount of money in compensation, punitive damages and a judge's order barring border officials from stopping or detaining anyone based on race, accent or language, according to the lawsuit.