Separated by a mere six points at the season's midway point, three young drivers are leading the way in the Semi Pro division in Atlanta Motor Speedway's Thursday Thunder summer racing series.
Dylan Ames, Bryce Walker and Austin Hill sit atop the Pep Boys Auto Semi Pro division, arguably the year's most competitive class, and each has an opportunity to claim the class championship. With three victories in five races between the trio - each driver with one victory - this group is poised for a three-way championship run.
"Semi Pro is turning out to be our most competitive division this season," said Brandon Hutchinson, vice president of events at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "We've started nearly 20 cars in every race and three of the races have been caution free. I anticipate this points battle will continue through the last week of the season."
Ames currently holds a slim, five-point margin over Walker who sits in second. Nipping on Walker's heels, Hill sits just one-point back in third. In addition to the top-three positions, four other drivers are within 50 points of Ames' lead.
As close as the three competitors sit, one mistake in a single race could be the difference between a championship and falling short. Because they know each other both on and off the track, it makes the competition more difficult.
"We're all pretty close and we're good friends. We talk at the track and even eat dinner with each other after practices," said Walker, who has an even 5-and-5 record against Ames and Hill in 2008 AMS Semi Pro competition. "It sometimes makes it harder because they'll race you and think you'll give them room sometimes or you know what they are going to do."
The three young drivers all hail from different states - Hill from Winston, Georgia, Ames from Alabama and Walker from Texas - and each has a distinct driving style, often making the Semi Pro feature the highlight of the nine-race Thursday Thunder schedule. Their contrasting styles pit Hill's patience against Walker's wielded aggressiveness, while Ames has the steady hand to control his car through contact.
Within the Semi Pro class at Thursday Thunder, their head-to-head records are nearly identical. Ames has the best record against his friends at 6-and-4, Hill is 4-and-6 and Walker sits at .500 with a 5-and-5 mark.
And in addition to their proximity in the standings and similar records against each other, they also share similar sentiments on what it would take to claim the Semi Pro championship over their peers.
"I need to be patient and try to finish at the top of races to win the championship," said Ames.
Echoing Ames' words, Walker explained: "I've just got to keep getting top-five finishes and being consistent to win it all."
Hill also has his eyes on regularly placing in the top five en route to a championship. "I'm just going to try to finish in the top five every week and get some wins along the way. If I can do that, I should have a chance to win it all."
And for the local favorite, it would be especially significant to Hill to win the Semi Pro championship on a hometown track over his friends.
"Me and Bryce [Walker] are real close and I've known Dylan a long time," said Hill. "It would make it more special to win over those guys."