As this year's Thursday Thunder season commences and short-track racing returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway's "Thunder Ring", a new class will reemerge for the 2009 season.
The Young Lions class returns for 2009 and will showcase Legends drivers ranging from 12-years old to age 15. And despite the young ages of the drivers, the Young Lions class will be one of the most entertaining and competitive classes on the Thursday Thunder schedule.
With youthful drivers with nearly as many years of experience as they are old, the Young Lions class will feature large fields and many drivers with aspirations of becoming professional racers.
"The Young Lions class will be as competitive or more so than any other class on the Thursday Thunder schedule," said Atlanta Motor Speedway's vice president of events Brandon Hutchison. "We have a lot of young talented drivers - many with aspirations of being NASCAR's drivers of tomorrow - and they should put on a show from week to week. I expect a lot of action in the Young Lions class."
And Hutchison expects action in the Young Lions class for good reason - the talent level of the field.
The Young Lions will feature many of the top drivers from other classes in 2008. Champions Mason Massey (Bandits) of Douglasville and Blake Jones (Young Guns) of Sevierville, Tenn. will each graduate to the Young Lions class, while successful Semi-Pro drivers like Douglasville's Davey Matthews (sixth in 2008) will also join the action.
"Most of the good Legends drivers are young kids and the Young Lions class will have a lot of great drivers," said Billy Fulson, a Brooks native who finished second in the 2008 Pro standings and will serve as a mechanic and engineer for Judson Kittle's (Watkinsville) 2009 Young Lions campaign. "When you think about these young kids who want to be [NASCAR drivers] one day and they're running in the Young Lions, you realize it's going to be a young Pro class. You could have five, six or even seven cars running just as fast as the Pros."
The Young Lions drivers share Fulson's sentiments.
"I think it's going to be really competitive, because a lot of the younger Semi-Pro guys who were running in the front have moved to Young Lions," said Matthews. "These drivers are really good, despite their age. One day, a lot of these guys could be professionals."
And before the Young Lions have even raced their first event on the 2009 Thursday Thunder schedule, some driver's are already planning their season-long strategy.
"It's going to be a hard class," said Massey, who edged his nearest competition by eight points to win the 2008 Bandits championship. "It's going to be so competitive you're going to have to worry about points. I'll just aim for top-fives, because this might be the most competitive class this year."