Each summer, short tracks are filled with local racers, many of which hope to earn their way to victory lane. But when it comes to Legends and Bandolero racing, Atlanta Motor Speedway's quarter-mile "Thunder Ring" is among the toughest tracks to win on.
When Atlanta Motor Speedway begins its 14th season of Thursday Thunder on June 2, it'll mark another season of thrilling and competitive racing at the track located on the Speedway's frontstretch.
It will also start the Speedway's summer racing series, which features drivers vying to win at Atlanta in Legends, Bandolero and Thunder Roadster Divisions. Many drivers feel that if they can win at Thursday Thunder, they can win at most any other track. In fact, a victory at Atlanta is seen as tougher to come by than a victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway's weekly summer legends racing series.
Winston's Sean Rayhall is among the drivers taking great pride in being successful at Atlanta. Considered to be one of the top–up-and-coming drivers in racing, he won the Young Lions Division in both Atlanta and Charlotte in 2010.
"You hear a lot of people talking about Charlotte being the mecca (of Legends racing). But when any of the Charlotte boys come down to Atlanta, they usually can't compete with us down here," Rayhall said. "The competition down here I think is steeper than Charlotte. Usually when I go up to Charlotte I think it's easier to win at Summer Shootout than it is to win a Thursday Thunder race. The competition down here is unspeakable. You can't get anywhere near it."
One challenging aspect of Atlanta's quarter-mile track is its ever-changing track conditions. Each week during Thursday Thunder, drivers race in heat races while the late-afternoon sun is out. A majority of the feature races, however, take the green flag when the sun is down. That, according to 2010 Pro Division Champion Donald McIntosh, can make achieving the perfect set-up on a car a challenge.
"This track is real tough to get a hold of. The track changes from the day to night and it's really tough to get around here fast," McIntosh said.
Handling also plays a major role at Thursday Thunder. With little room to pass, a car's handling is critical to a driver being able to move up through the field. And with fewer chances to pass, the chances of drivers trading a little bit of paint in order to gain a position usually ends up being a consequence.
"It's a real tight track, your car has to be handling really good to be able to turn fast times and stay up front," said Smyrna's William Plemons III, who won the 2010 Semi-Pro Division at Thursday Thunder.
But as McIntosh, of Dawsonville, points out, if a driver can run well at Thursday Thunder, they can likely win at most any other track in the country which hosts Legends and Bandolero races.
"If you're competitive here, you can go anywhere in the country and be competitive," McIntosh said.
Buzz Cars Poised For Thursday Thunder Debut
June 2 will also mark the Thursday Thunder debut of the newest racing division at Thursday Thunder, the Buzz Cars. These cars allow local racers a chance to compete on a limited budget. Buzz Cars are three or four-cylinder front-wheel drive stock cars and may have a wheel base of no more than 105."
Winston's Taylor Hull raced in a Buzz Car exhibition race last month at Atlanta Motor Speedway, giving him the distinction of being the only driver to have raced in the Legends, Bandolero, Thunder Roadster and Buzz Car Divisions on Atlanta Motor Speedway's quarter-mile track.
Hull's looking forward to an exciting summer within the Buzz Car Division .
"They're a lot of fun and will be an absolute riot when you get 10-to12-to-15 of them out on the track," Hull said. "I think it'll be an awesome time for us and for the fans. I think they'll give the desired effect of some beating and banging. They don't handle worth anything, which is what everybody expected, because they're stock cars and you can't really expect a stock car to really do what you want it to around a quarter-mile flat track."
For information on racing your own Buzz Car, call (770) 946-3954.
All-Division Photo and Autograph Session On Opening Night
Fans will have an opportunity to seek driver autographs and have photos taken with their favorite Thursday Thunder racer as part of the fan activities on opening night.
Drivers in every Thursday Thunder division will participate in a photo and autograph session prior to the start of feature races.
Other opening night entertainment will include a performance by The Great Moodini, an escape artist.
Featuring a full slate of short-track racing, Thursday Thunder is an affordably priced activity that offers something for spectators of all ages. Tickets are just $6 for adults and $2 for children 6-11 (ages 5 and under are free) for each evening of family fun and grass roots racing. Gates open at 6 p.m., heat races start at 6:15 p.m. and feature races start at approximately 7:50 p.m. For more information about Thursday Thunder, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211 or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com