The majority of mothers in the garage area during Thursday Thunder at Atlanta Motor Speedway simply come to show their support and make sure their child stays hydrated.
For Mary Caldwell of McDonough Ga., her duties are much more intense. Mary's son, James, races in the John Deere Outlaws division during Thursday Thunder, Atlanta Motor Speedway's weekly Legends racing series, and Mary takes an active role in making sure James gets to the track, stays safe and enjoys a night of racing.
Mary pulls the racecar trailer to the track every Wednesday for practice and Thursday for competition, helps load and unload the car, puts fuel in it and is even capable of small mechanical repairs like replacing brake pads.
The Caldwell's contract a fellow competitor to set their car up and take care of routine maintenance on their Bandolero.
"I am mechanically declined, so when it comes to anything I don't know how to fix, which is usually 10 times out of 10, I get someone to help me," Mary laughed. "Everyone in the garage area is so helpful and anytime someone sees me struggle with something they are eager to help. Thursday Thunder is truly a family event."
The Caldwell's have turned countless laps since they started racing at AMS and as James has become a better driver, Mary has become a better crew chief.
"That first year we raced, if it weren't for bad luck, we wouldn't have had any luck," Mary said. "The chain would always fall off and I thought that was the biggest deal. Now, if the car breaks, I hope it is the chain because I know it is about the easiest thing to fix."
Caldwell, who also plays football for the Luella High School Lions, has come a long way from his first interaction with a race car; an experience that might have sent most people running.
"I test drove a Legends car at AMS," Caldwell said. "The throttle hung open on it and I went spinning through the infield grass. It was a little scary, but it really just made me realize I should probably start my racing career in a Bandolero first."
An even trade united Caldwell with his first Bandolero.
"We found a guy in North Carolina that had the Bandolero for sale or trade," Mary remembered. "We were trying to sell a convertible and it wasn't selling because it was October and cold outside. The guy with the Bandolero needed a car, we wanted a racecar, so it worked out great."
Three years later, the 16-year-old Luella High School student has amassed eight top-10 finishes and five top-five finishes at Atlanta Motor Speedway, placing him third in the Thursday Thunder Championship points chase this season.
While James is happy in the Bandolero, both he and his mother are nearing the next step their racing career.
"I love racing the Bandolero," James said. "But I really want to move up to a Legends car. It is a little more expensive and that is what we are trying to figure out right now. That is my goal though; to move into the Legends car."
James mother has similar feelings.
"Racing is something we plan on doing for a while to come," Mary said. "So the next logical step up is the Legends car. From the time he was 2-years-old, James has been a race fan. He would watch the NASCAR races and take his Hot Wheels cars and line them up on the coffee table and swap positions with them whenever the cars on the TV did."
It is James' father's busy work schedule that forces Mary and James to team up for Thursday Thunder competition, but Mary's devotion runs deeper than time or effort.
"We like to joke around the house that I had to get a job to pay for James' racing," Mary said. "The truth is I wanted to go back to work anyway, this was just a good reason to actually do it and it does help pay for racing."
Fans can watch Caldwell chase his first Thursday Thunder win at Atlanta Motor Speedway this summer through August 3. Tickets for Thursday Thunder, Atlanta Motor Speedway's weekly Legends racing series, are available at Gate 13 (frontstretch Champions Grandstand) on event nights. Parking is free. Spectator gates open at 6 p.m. with preliminary action beginning immediately. Feature racing begins at 7 p.m. and concludes by 10:30 p.m.