With one final preparation on the 'Thunder Ring' before the 2009 Thursday Thunder season, the field of competitors showed the 2009 season may feature new stars, as not one champion from 2008 claimed a victory during the night's off-season races.
Without a single 2008 champion claiming a win, new faces prevailed in the final night of off-season racing, including wins by two drivers still eager to claim their first Thursday Thunder feature win - Luke Behnke and Alex Coffey. In addition, Atlanta Motor Speedway president and general manger Ed Clark claimed wins in both the Masters and Roadsters classes.
Justin Swilling led the field to the green flag for the Pro division, the first feature race of the night. Swilling quickly shot to lead, leaving Zac Kittle and Dylan Ames to battle for second. Bumping on the final lap, Kittle nosed ahead of Ames for second, while Swilling easily cruised to victory.
Clark held the pole position for the Roadsters feature. Fighting side-by-side in the opening laps, Clark pushed ahead of Brad Shelnutt in the middle portion of the race. After a caution brought the field together, Clark surged ahead in the final laps for the win.
Pacing the combined classes of Young Guns and Outlaws to the start, Justin Thomas began the race out front. With Thomas leading, a three-way race for first began to unfold with Luke Behnke and Garrett Smithley trailing. After Smithley made contact with the wall, forcing Behnke to fall back, Thomas continued to cruise in front. Despite Behnke closing in the final laps, Thomas claimed the feature win.
The Bandits feature began with Coffey holding the advantage. Trailed by Madeline Crane in second, Coffey built a seemingly insurmountable lead - nearly one quarter of the 'Thunder Rings' total length - by the race's midpoint. Lapping traffic to hold his massive lead, Coffey took the checkered flag uncontested.
The Semi-Pro feature started with Mike Weed at the front. In the race's opening laps, Weed and Jake Armstrong quickly pulled away from the pack. With Armstrong closing and nipping at Weed's heels, the Franklin native held on just long enough for victory.
Leading a field to the start for the second time, Clark paced the Masters division to the start. Challenged unsuccessfully by Virgil Brown in the opening moments, Clark needed just a few laps to jettison ahead of the competition. Lapping the field by the 15th lap, Clark claimed his second win of the evening without challenge.
Using a last-lap pass to finish first in his heat race, Evan Swilling paced the Young Lions to the start for their feature. Surging to the front in the race's opening moments, Chad Finchum passed Swilling for the lead. After a caution brought the field together again, Finchum, Swilling and Scott Hensley pushed ahead of the field. After bumping Finchum repeatedly, Swilling used a clean pass a lap later to reclaim the lead. With multiple cautions keeping the field together, Swilling was forced to battle Hensley to the finish, but he was able to hold on for the win.
The 2009 Thursday Thunder season begins on June 4, kicking off 10 weeks of Legends, Bandolero and Thunder Roadster racing. Tickets are just $5 for adults and $1 for ages six through 11. For more information on Atlanta Motor Speedway events and the upcoming Thursday Thunder summer series, visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.
To test drive your own Legends machine, or for more information about Legends racing, call Legends of Georgia director Peter Horne III at (770) 707-2977 or visit www.legendsofga.com.
5/08/09 Off-Season Race Results:
1. Justin Swilling (Cohutta), 2. Zac Kittle (Watkinsville), 3. Dylan Ames (Harvest, Ala.), 4. Ronnie Bassett (Winston Salem, N.C., 5. Steven Bloodworth (McIntyrie), 6. Bubba Harry (Griffin).
1. Ed Clark (Peachtree City), 2. Brad Shelnutt (Selma, Ala.).
1. Justin Thomas (Woodstock), 2. Joey Padgett (Tallahassee, Fla.).
1. Luke Behnke (Fayetteville), 2. Garrett Smithley (Peachtree City).
1. Alex Coffey (McDonough), 2. Madeline Crane (Meansville), 3. Michael Bell (Stockbridge), 4. Ryan Massaro (Glencoe, Ala.).
1. Mike Weed (Franklin), 2. Chris Bowie, 3. Scott Hicks, 4. Jake Armstrong (Fayetteville).
1. Ed Clark (Peachtree City), 3. Virgil Brown (Concord), 3. John Ponzio.
1. Evan Swilling (Cohutta), 2. Scott Hensley, 3. Chad Fincham (Knoxville, Tenn.), 4. Dale Dodge, 5. Davey Matthews (Douglasville), 6. Mason Massey (Winston), 7. Blake Jones (Sevierville, Tenn.), 8. AJ Carlisi, 9. Matthew Johnson (Canton), 10. Justin Thomas (Woodstock), 11. Jacob Wallace, 12. Tyler Mullins, 13. Charlie Gresham (Milner), 14. Austin Garvey (McDonough), 15. Dillon Bassett (Winston Salem, N.C.), 16. Jacob Bowie.