By blazing down drag lanes and paving the way for riders like himself, Rodney Tolbert is a leader among Atlanta-area all-terrain vehicle fanatics. 

On the asphalt, Tolbert was the first champion of Atlanta Motor Speedway's Friday Night Drags ATV division one year ago. In 2008, he has won the first two Friday Night Drags points events on his highly-modified 1987 Yamaha Banshee to hold a sizeable points lead over the competition.

Away from the drag strip, the Locust Grove resident's ATV affection continues as he tirelessly advocates for the vitality and continued interest in four-wheelers.

"ATV racing is a fairly new sport and I'm trying my best to make it even more popular," said Tolbert, who owns Horsepower ATV and Cycle Repair in Fayetteville and runs Kut-Da-Check Racing. "I race and work on ATVs for a living, so I love this stuff. I keep hearing from friends that the fans go crazy watching the ATVs race, but I can't tell when I have a helmet on."

Knowing spectators had an interest in ATV racing, Tolbert approached Atlanta Motor Speedway event promotions coordinator Ted Austad with the intent of beginning an ATV class at Friday Night Drags before last season. Austad welcomed the addition.

"Rodney first approached me about racing ATVs at our events," said Austad, who serves as event director for Friday Night Drags. "It added another twist to out fan-friendly races and we were happy to welcome the new class."

In order to feature a large enough number of ATVs in the class' first races, Tolbert opened the doors of his shop to field a larger lineup. 

"When we first came down to Atlanta Motor Speedway I brought my own ATVs - about eight of them - so we could have a good number of races," explained Tolbert. "Ted opened the door for us and I appreciate it. Now we have guys coming from all around to race their four-wheelers, but I would still like to see more new guys on ATVs at Friday Night Drags."

In addition to pushing for a legal location to drag race his ATV, Tolbert is also working to make his ride street legal. To his knowledge and research, the state of Georgia has never issued a license plate for an ATV. However, by exempting from certain requirements and by meeting restrictions developed for traditional road vehicles, Tolbert is on the verge of acquiring street-legal status for an ATV.

"I had to learn every single ambiguity in the DMV system, but I'm in the final steps of getting it done," said Tolbert with hints of excitement evident in his tone. "Once I get it insured and do a few final things, I should have the first street-legal four-wheeler in Georgia."

And while a good amount of his time is focused on his shop and acquiring street status for his ATVs, Tolbert is equally interested in getting more ATVs competing at AMS and more fans interested in his sport. Tolbert is willing to go so far to support the sport, he is considering benching his Banshee in favor of a less powerful ATV to make the event more competitive.

"There are a couple of guys who have stuff that might compete with the Banshee, but I end up toying with some of the slower ones," said Tolbert, whose Banshee runs nearly 100 more horsepower than it did originally, with over 130 hp at the wheel compared to 44 stock hp. "I'm thinking about bringing a new one to make it tighter at the line so we have more fun with it. I just want to have a good time and see more people come out."

But while the Banshee might be retired from the ATV class, Tolbert is considering taking a new challenge to entertain the fans. Featuring a stretched body, narrowed wheel base and the best parts he could find - including an adapted turbocharger for a four-cylinder engine - Tolbert wants to run his ATV against motorcycles to put on a crowd-pleasing spectacle.

"I want to win a street bike trophy with this thing," said Tolbert. "I've beaten motorcycles before and the fans loved it. I want to get people paying attention to the ATVs and I'm doing anything I can to advance the sport."

Tolbert can be seen racing his ATV at Atlanta Motor Speedway's Friday Night Drags presented by ACDelco this Friday, July 4 and every Friday night through August 22. More information can be obtained by calling 770-946-4211 or by visiting www.atlantamotorspeedway.com

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EDITOR'S NOTE: High-resolution image of Tolbert to accompany this release, can be downloaded from:
http://www.atlantamotorspeedway.com/media/press_photos/
Photos
courtesy of Atlanta Motor Speedway