Similarly tough as jumping from college to the pros, moving up a division at Atlanta Motor Speedway's Thursday Thunder is no easy task.
Mike Weed knows this truth as well as anyone. After one Chargers class win in the Winter Flurry season and amassing two wins in Thursday Thunder's first four weeks, rules dictated that the Franklin native jump up to the Pep Boys Auto Semi-Pro class.
And the 15-year old Weed quickly learned how difficult a new class can be. With an average finish position of 2.5 in his first four weeks of 2008 Chargers competition with three podium finishes, Weed has had an average finish of 13.75 since moving up a class.
"It's been tough since moving up to Semi-Pro," said Weed, who only once posted consecutive finishes of 10th or worse in his first year of Chargers competition in 2007. "This is a whole different ballgame. I was running at the top in Chargers and, after moving up, I'm now three to four tenths of a second off the lap times. I'm just going to keep at it until I can catch these guys."
But catching the top of the Pep Boys Auto Semi-Pro class is perhaps the toughest of orders at Atlanta Motor Speedway's Thursday Thunder. Arguably the deepest class top-to-bottom, the Semi-Pro division has eight drivers within 80 points of the class' top spot and 18 drivers have competed in at least four Semi-Pro features. While moving up is a credit to Weed's ability, it also presents his toughest obstacle in eight years of racing and his second year in a Legends car.
"Winning three races in any division is not an easy feat and moving up is an honor for the racers," said Brandon Hutchison, vice president of events at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "Completing this task on Atlanta's ‘Thunder Ring' is tougher than one may imagine and advancing to Pep Boys Auto Semi-Pro, where the competition is always very tight, is going to be a tough task."
Douglasville's Billy Fulson understands the difficulty in advancing as well as anyone after climbing three classes in just three years with noteworthy success.
"It takes you a good 10 or 15 races to get the hang of that next class," said Fulson, who climbed from Chargers, to Pep Boys Auto Semi-Pro to Charter Communications Pro in three years (2005-2007) by posting five wins in 25 races. "As a driver, you're only as fast as the guys you're competing against, so when you move up, you learn a lot from the other drivers real fast. It's really tough at first and you don't see many people who have success right off the bat, but you can work to get there."
Four weeks into his education in advancement, Weed is already showing improvement. After a pair of 16th-place finishes and a showing of 13th, Weed cracked the top 10 of Semi-Pro for the first time in week eight of Thursday Thunder.
"It took about a year to get the hang in Chargers and I'm getting a lot better in Semi-Pro," said Weed, whose 10th-place showing in week eight pushed him to 17th in the Pep Boys Auto Semi-Pro standings in just four races. "I'm following [the Semi-Pro driver's] lines, getting the corner harder and hitting the gas sooner. I'm starting to catch up to the Semi-Pro guys."
And while Weed is eager to be back in victory lane and knows it takes time, he is still hoping to do it sooner rather than later.
"Right now, I'm just trying to get better. I'm enjoying the competition and I just like racing," said Weed. "We only have two weeks left, but I'm hoping to work my way towards the top by the end of the season."
Thursday Thunder will run every Thursday through August 7. An adult ticket to Thursday Thunder is just $5 while kids ages six to 11 are just $1. Kids five and under are free. Gates open at 6 p.m., heat races start at 6:15 p.m. and feature races start at approximately 7:50 p.m. More information can be obtained by calling 770-946-4211 or by visiting www.AtlantaMotorSpeedway.com.