As noble as the cause was, last year’s Relay for Life at Road Atlanta had logistical issues that organizers would rather forget.
Participants and cancer survivors sat through grueling traffic on Winder Highway to reach the event, only to fight for a parking space and then walk a mile or so to the track where they would walk some more.
Organizers said they heard the concerns loud and clear and have made some changes to help with traffic, parking and other matters in the American Cancer Society fundraiser.
“It was a happy occurrence we had so many people show up (last year), but (the event) made a major shift in how our thinking was in the way of how things work in way of parking, crowd control and things of that nature,” said Dan Cox, the event’s logistics chairman.
“The things that happened last year should be an unpleasant memory left in last year,” he added.
Perhaps the biggest and most noticeable difference is that the 17th annual event’s location will be at the main paddock area near the front of the racing complex and visible from Winder Highway.
Last year’s event was held at the very rear of the 2.5-mile, 12-turn South Hall complex, or at “Spectator Hill.”
This year’s event, set for June 4-5, also will feature reserved survivor parking at one end of the paddock area, which is flat and generally more user-friendly for a walking event.
Golf carts also will be available to shuttle survivors to the track.
“Many of them are still going through treatments and such, and they are why we relay and need to be treated accordingly,” said Eliza Baker, community manager for the American Cancer Society, which is based locally at 2625 Thompson Bridge Road.
The main paddock area, which houses the sports cars during the track’s popular Petit Le Mans racing event, should provide “good access for a busing loop that we are going to put in there,” said Geoff Lee, president of Road Atlanta.
“A lot of people with access problems ... will be able to park in very close,” he said. “And others will be able to park fairly near and they will just either make their way up and down the hill to get into the paddock or hop on a bus that will do a quick loop (to the track).
“We think it’s going to be appreciably better this year.”
The annual event drew participants in the thousands through its early years, growing annually. But nothing prepared organizers for last year’s turnout of more than 20,000 people — more than double the previous year.
The event has moved to different sites through the years, with Road Atlanta in Braselton serving as host for the first time last year.
Baker said the event’s new parking plan will accommodate up to 40,000 people easily.
“If you had an issue with last year, that’s OK, we did too,” said Ron Combs, who fills a publicity role for Relay for Life. “Come back this year and see how we’ve fixed it.”
Last year’s event raised $540,000. The goal this year is $568,000.
So far, a record number of teams —114 — has signed up for the event, Baker said.
Even with logistical improvements, spectators and participants should expect crowds.
“We need to treat this as a major event,” Baker said. “If you can, carpool with friends. If you want to be here for the survivor lap (at 7 p.m.), we encourage (the public) to arrive (early). We’ll be set up and ready for people at 5:30.
“If you’re going to a Braves game ... you don’t leave your house at 6 o’clock for a 7 o’clock starting pitch.”
Lee said the track “is really thrilled to have the event back this year.”
“It’s good for us as well because a lot of the people that came out (last year) may not have been to Road Atlanta before,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t realize there’s this motor sports Disneyland in their backyard.”