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Petit Le Mans revs its economic engine
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Road Atlanta’s upcoming Petit Le Mans on Oct. 16-19 is considered the largest international sporting event in Georgia, welcoming its legions of fans to stay, play and spend in the area.

“The Petit Le Mans is an economic engine for many businesses in Hall, Jackson, Barrow and Gwinnett counties, and the entire Atlanta region,” said Kit Dunlap, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

“The four-day event will bring in some 150,000 people who will eat in restaurants; stay in hotels (and) motels; shop in retail stores; buy gas and visit other tourism places,” Dunlap said, “and enjoy our quality of life.”

According to the Gainesville-Hall County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the venue has the second-largest tourism economic impact in Hall County, besides Lake Lanier, equal to a $53.5 million boost to the area’s pocketbook.

And, with lake visitation down, long lines to Road Atlanta’s ticketed entrances will be a welcome sight.

“We anticipate record crowds — especially if we continue to have such excellent weather,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Petit Le Mans is a major draw for visitors to Hall County.”

Noting the event’s short duration and little need for additional infrastructure unlike some other development, Geoff Lee, Road Atlanta’s president said, “We bring in some business without too much pain.”

Lee spoke Thursday about the race’s impact to members of the South Hall Business Alliance, whose meeting was held at the track.

This year will be a special running of the 1,000-mile, 10-hour Petit Le Mans, as the final run as an American Le Mans Sanctioned race. Fans will say au revoir to the Le Mans prototype cars that have been enduring those 12 winding turns and the 2.54-mile circuit. The first Petit Le Mans was held in 1998 at Road Atlanta.

“With the swan song of the American Le Mans series being this year’s Petit,” said Dickson, “we expect even more fans than usual. With the nostalgia of it being the last ALMS race and the anticipation of what’s to come from the NASCAR merger, there are a lot of eager fans who won’t miss this year’s race.”

In September 2012, NASCAR announced its purchase of the Panoz Motor Sports Group, which is behind the ALMS series. The stock car organization also purchased Grand-Am Road Racing, an auto racing sanctioning body that was established in 1999.

“We were purchased by NASCAR, just exactly a year ago,” said Lee, who has said there will be some changes at the track, but he believes fans will like them.

For fans of the “little sister” endurance race, there is no need for concern. Under an agreement with the Automobile Club De L’Ouest in France, Petit Le Mans will now be under the United Sports Car Racing Series. According to reports, this will be the first time the best of ALMS teams have competed against Grand-Am teams and cars.

“We were fortunate that Petit Le Mans was the little sister to the Le Mans,” Lee said.

This connection provides an added stimulus for Hall County through its global visibility.

According to Lee, the popular international race has reached more than 850,000 television viewers. Combining this with race attendance by global corporate leaders and fans, Lee said, “We think we are a nice catalyst.”

Dunlap agreed.

“The exposure on TV for the race and (the) Braselton/Hall County area is something we could not possibly buy.”

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