With Atlanta Motor Speedway's 10th anniversary season of Thursday Thunder well underway, veteran driver and Albany, Ga. resident Skip Nichols reflected on the evolution of the series and its growth in the last decade.
The weekly racing series runs 10-weeks through the summer with drivers competing on the Thunder Ring, AMS' frontstretch quarter-mile oval. Drivers as young as eight-years-old test their skills in cars built to the same specifications, putting the outcome of the race in the driver's hands.
"The single largest difference I've seen throughout the years has been the car count," the 58-year-old Nichols said. "It just keeps getting bigger with 100 cars each night becoming normal."
Nichols, the 1999 Georgia state Legends champion in the Masters Division, has amassed an impressive record at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the track where he started his Legends racing career in 1998. Notching an incredible 63 top- five finishes in 68 starts, Nichols is one of the most decorated drivers in Thursday Thunder history.
Climbing in a go-kart and racing for the first time at just seven years old, Nichols moved to two wheels, racing dirt bikes when he was 12. He moved back to four wheels racing a hobby-car just three years later and with the exception of a 15-year hiatus from racing, Nichols has been racing ever since.
"I had to stop racing for a while," Nichols said. "When my kids finally graduated school, I was able to start racing again and I have been driving a Legends car ever since."
In addition to the increased car count, Nichols has observed several other changes through the years as well.
"The competition gets tougher with each passing year," Nichols said. "Every year people get faster. The facility has grown so much over the years as well. It is truly world-class."
Gunning for his record-tying fifth Legends car championship at AMS, Nichols finds himself in the midst of the points battle in 2007, but readily admits it's not just the racing that keeps him coming back to AMS.
"It takes a little while to get from Albany to Hampton," Nichols said. "In all my years of racing, I have never been associated with a more wonderful group of people and that is what keeps me coming back each week. Everyone from the staff to the racers to their pit crews are exceptional people. I've never seen anything like it.
"That includes my fellow competitors. We can beat and bang and even exchange words when we get off the track, but by the end of the night, we have shaken hands and are all buddies again."
Nichols' list of changes the Thursday Thunder Series has seen is short, citing just minor rules changes as the only differences he has noticed.
"I've seen a couple rules get changed and that is just to make the racing more exciting for the fans," Nichols said. "After all, that is why we are here and if people didn't buy tickets, we couldn't race."
While Nichols is trying to break Doug Stevens' record of five division championships in a Legends car, he already has one record firmly in his grasp.
"I have the youngest crew chief in the pit area," Nichols said laughing. "My grandson Wilder, is 2 and he helps me out a lot. He has his own tire gauge and tool set. He works just as hard as I do on the car."
For more information about Thursday Thunder, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211 or visit http://www.atlantamotorspeedway.com/