Atlanta Motor Speedway's 2003 Thursday Thunder Season Rumbles To A Close
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
In what was easily the most competitive season in Thursday Thunder¿s six-year history, Atlanta Motor Speedway¿s 10-week summer racing series ran full-throttle to the end last week.
Near-record crowds delighted in the close battles, which came down to the wire, with six of the eight divisions deciding champions on the final night.
Six drivers were first-time champions, while ARCA racer Doug Stevens (McDonough) won the Pro division for a Thursday Thunder record fourth time. In all, 2003 saw 31 different winners, including eight first-time winners.
Off the track, families were treated to a bonanza of games, eating contests, giveaways and goody bags. Along the way, the rest of Atlanta came to know what Thursday Thunder regulars already found: Thursday Thunder is one of the most fun and affordable family activities around.
Atlanta Motor Speedway would like to thank all the fans, competitors, volunteers and sponsors for making 2003 the best Thursday Thunder season yet. Our congratulations go out to the following racers:
ATLANTA DENTAL TEAM BANDITS
Atlanta Dental Team Bandits division champion Casey Roderick had never been in a Bandolero car until May, when the go-kart champion made the move to full-bodied cars. Less than three months later, 11-year-old Roderick has four wins and a championship under his belt.
¿Everyone has been pretty amazed by how good I¿ve done in a Bandolero car,¿ Roderick said. ¿I didn¿t think I¿d have a hard time driving it, but I certainly didn¿t think I¿d be winning a championship this year.¿
Roderick topped two-time Alabama State Bandolero Champion Hunter Robbins by three points.
MOORE MACHINERY MOVERS YOUNG GUNS
The battle for the Moore Machinery Movers Young Guns division title was close to the finish, with two drivers claiming three wins apiece. Both Ryan Bowman and Trey Maughan won three straight, and both had four wins heading into week 10.
Maughan, however, was able to pull away in the final week of competition, edging Bowman for the championship.
¿I¿ve never wanted something as much as I wanted to win that trophy,¿ said Maughan, a 15-year-old Fayetteville native. ¿I can¿t stop smiling. I¿ve never been this happy about anything.¿
PACE CAR FUEL CENTERS OUTLAWS
Darrell Banks dominated the win column, earning five wins in the first nine weeks, but it was Jody Pilkenton who led the points into the final week. Banks received the checkered flag first, with Pilkenton right behind him, but the final results are pending a protest following the race.
PACE CAR FUEL CENTERS ROADSTERS
Jim Gresham of Stockbridge pulled double duty all season, racing in both the Tanger Outlet Center Masters division and driving his Thunder Roadster.
Gresham, 61, ran away with the Pace Car Fuel Centers Roadsters division championship, beating youngster Kyle Beattie by 335 points.
Gresham was also involved in one of the most vicious crashes of the season during week 1. His Legends machine flipped several times before coming to a stop against the backstretch wall. Gresham was uninjured.
Gresham, who owns and operates Gresham and Associates, has also brought his grandson into the sport. Ten-year-old Max Gresham races in the Atlanta Dental Team Bandits division.
TANGER OUTLET CENTER MASTERS
In his sixth season of Legends racing, Griffin¿s Mark Wallace finally took home a championship trophy.
Wallace beat two-time Masters champion Skip Nichols by 20 points after Nichols had a mechanical problem during week 10. Thursday Thunder 2003 marked the first time since he began racing Legends cars in 1998 that Wallace ran a full season.
¿This is the first season I¿ve had the chance to run every race,¿ Wallace said. ¿I knew if I could just get here I could contend for the championship, but in years past it¿s been difficult for me to get to the track every week.¿
Wallace¿s busy schedule is, in part, due to the hectic Winston Cup schedule. Wallace co-owns the No. 77 Jasper Engines and Transmissions Winston Cup machine driven by Dave Blaney.
Wallace, 47, has also raced in the Hooters Pro Cup series.
Doug Stevens of McDonough became Atlanta Motor Speedway¿s first four-time champion, having won the Pro division in ¿98, ¿99, ¿00 and ¿03.
Stevens, 26, earned a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech and now owns Advanced Technology Motor Sports. He began racing motorcycles when he was 5 years old and has also raced in the American Speed Association and ARCA, where he finished fourth in a race at Nashville last weekend.
Closely pursuing Stevens in the points chase were a pair of 17-year-olds, Chris Dilbeck (Hampton) and Douglas Ludwig (Fayetteville). In their first season in the advanced division, Dilbeck finished second and Ludwig third.
Last year¿s Chargers division champion, Bubba Harry (Griffin), repeated the championship feat, winning the Semi-Pro division after moving up at the end of 2002.
¿I turned 18, graduated and won my first Semi-Pro race all in about a week¿s time,¿ Harry said. ¿It wasn¿t a bad time to be me.¿
He wasn¿t without competition this season, though. Harry, 18, defeated 15-year-old Jeremy Kalina (Griffin) by nine points, while Griffin¿s Chris Cable, 14, finished third.
McDonough native Gary Tatum didn¿t visit Papa John¿s Victory Lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway all season, but that didn¿t stop him from taking home the championship trophy in the Chargers division.
When Chargers Myron Guyton and Sean ¿Flip¿ Davis moved into the Semi-Pro division midseason, Tatum was left in control. He consistently scored top-5 finishes in what was consistently the largest field of the night, never finishing outside of the top 6.