With an added influx of Bandolero drivers expected for this weekend's Bandolero Nationals at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Thursday Thunder should be the beneficiary as the summer racing series will play host to large Bandolero car counts and the resulting on-track excitement.
With more than 60 Bandoleros expected to compete at the July 24-25 Bandolero Nationals, many are expected to take to Atlanta Motor Speedway one-day early for practice seat time on the challenging "Thunder Ring" oval before the national competition. The inflated car counts and arrival of the nation's top short-track Bandolero racers will certainly result in one of the most exciting and anticipated Thursday Thunders in recent memory.
"I think it's going to be a lot of fun," said Chris Rhodes of Louisville, Kent. who sits fifth among in local Young Guns points. "The opportunity to race with guys from around the county will add a lot more competition to the game and allow us to show our skills. It definitely helps us get prepared for the Nationals; it's an important opportunity to get our car ready."
In addition to the increased car counts adding to the racing excitement and fun for the drivers, week eight of Thursday Thunder will provide necessary experience for many drivers leading up to the Bandolero Nationals. With the Nationals format featuring 40-lap feature races with loaded fields, the increased car counts will offer a first opportunity for many drivers to compete against a full field.
"There's probably going to be a lot more competition," explained 13-year old Taylor Jorgenson, one of a handful of females who compete at Thursday Thunder. "I'd expect a lot more wrecks and stuff and, because of that, you're really going to need to be on your game. Otherwise, you're going to be left behind because of how many top-notch racers will be out here."
But while the increased car counts will provide training for many competing in the Bandolero Nationals, it will also make week eight more challenging for many regulars on the "Thunder Ring."
"We're expecting a big field for Thursday Thunder," said John Holleman, using inflection to stress the large number of cars he expects. "I'm sure it will make it tougher to race for points. There's going to be a lot of wrecks and a lot of them that will be fast. It's going to affect the competition."
Holleman currently sits third in the M&S Auto Bandits points standings and he is concerned that many migrant drivers won't take heed of the points battles occurring around them as many focus on preparing for the Nationals. Despite his concerns, he is excited for the increased car count and is even more eager to compete in the Nationals.
"I'm ready," said Holleman of the 2009 Bandolero Nationals. "This long race is going to be a survival race. You have to be on your game, you can't get tired and you have to focus the whole 40 laps or you will fall off."
The rigors of a 40-lap race are already on the mind of many competitors who are yet to race a feature longer than 20 laps in their young careers.
"I think it's going to be a lot different because there will be a need to conserve your car," explained Garrett Smithley, who sits second among J.J. Morley Outlaws at Thursday Thunder. "In a longer race you have to worry about your brakes, tires - smart racers will wait until the end to make their push."
J.J. Morley Outlaws points leader Luke Behnke sees a specific competitive advantage in the 40-lap format he often cannot use at Thursday Thunder.
"What's going to be nice is you can always adjust your car early and get back out there and still have a chance," said Behnke. "I think the event is awesome and I'm looking forward to it. It's going to bring a lot of competition and traffic to Thursday Thunder and it doesn't matter to me as long as I win."
With an added array of Bandoleros joining Thursday Thunder before the Nationals, winning might be tougher for Behnke in a larger crowd. But one note is for certain, the added car counts will make for one of the most intriguing Thursday Thunder evenings in history.
"It's going to be fun," said Evan Bell, the Young Guns division points leader. "You're going to have to be careful and stay out of trouble because it could make you go back farther in the points. With a bunch of guys out there who have never raced here, it should be interesting out there."