Loading up and caravanning through the night across state lines, their journey sounds more like that of a big-rig driver than a budding racer.

But with a reputation for churning out short-track champions and up-and-comers in the NASCAR ranks, Atlanta Motor Speedway's Thursday Thunder draws competitors from across the country. Driving from Florida, Kentucky and Missouri on a weekly basis, Thursday Thunder's grid is often filled with racing migrants who descend upon the "Thunder Ring."

Among competitors who make the longest treks to Atlanta Motor Speedway, the same reasons are often repeated.

"We come to Atlanta for the level of competition and the high car count," said Lori Rhodes of Louisville, Ky., whose sons Ben and Chris race in Bandits cars. "It's a nicer track than most anything near [Kentucky] and, otherwise, we would have to drive to Indianapolis where you don't get near the same car count."

Kyle and Clayton Weatherman, competitors in the M&S Auto Bandits division, agree with that assessment.

"It has a lot to do with the talent levels," said Kyle. "The traveling can get boring at times, but I try to focus on my racing."

"Because me and my brother want to get to NASCAR and want to get better, we wanted to come to Atlanta to compete with the great drivers down there," added Clayton.

For the Weatherman family from Wentzville, Mo., traveling to Thursday Thunder has even included airfare and a part-time relocation. A year after leaving Bandolero cars in Atlanta and flying each week to contend with record-high fuel prices, Daryn Weatherman is expanding his business, St. Charles Glass and Glazing, to Atlanta and Charlotte to allow his sons can compete in each city.

"Last year with the fuel prices, it was cheaper to buy two more cars and leave them and fly than to drive," said Daryn. "That's why I'm expanding the company to Atlanta and Charlotte."

Some of the nation's best short-track competition and large car counts pull competitors from as far as Utah and Nevada, but these reasons aren't the only draw for racers to Thursday Thunder. With the 2009 Bandolero Nationals quickly approaching on July 24 and 25, many competitors come to Atlanta to rehearse before the national championship event.

"One of the main reasons we want to race the whole season in Atlanta is to prepare for the Nationals," said Daryn. "You want to get seat time on the track before the event. Plus if you want to get noticed, you need to race in the South. It's not the same and you won't get noticed at Kentucky or Indianapolis."

There are unintended benefits of traveling to Atlanta for Thursday Thunder as well - family bonding. Together in a car for long periods of time, the drive to Atlanta can present a cherished chance for parents to talk with the children.

"I like riding down to Atlanta because I get to hang out with my family and have fun with them," said Ben Rhodes. "Since we've been racing, it's given us an opportunity to spend more time together."

But in addition to the extra family time, the demands of racing require immense sacrifices by the family as well.

"People don't really know how much of a full-time job this is," explained Daryn. "It's myself, my two boys and two helpers in order to be able to race in a few places and it will take up the whole week. Between practice, tuning the cars, racing on Thursday, driving back Thursday night and working on the cars over the weekend, that's what you have to do to help them get good."

But ultimately, both the parents and racers truly appreciate the bonding experience and memories, regardless of long drives and commitments.

"It's incredible to get spend all this time with my son doing something we both love," said Danny Padgett of Tallahassee, Fla. whose son Joey drives in the Young Guns division. "It's great that the parents are willing to make the sacrifice and drive these distances for their kids. I can speak for a lot of the parents; it's not for us, but for the kids. I know that by how tired I am on Sunday."