In the Morley Company Outlaws division, dominance has been the story of 2011. Roswell's Parker Barnes went into week seven with an unblemished record: six starts, six wins. But last week proved to be different, as Meansville native Madeline Crane used her pole position to catapult herself to victory lane. Holding off Barnes for the win, Crane claimed her second career Thursday Thunder victory.
"It's really good because he had won all six and we'd been trying to catch him," says Crane. "His cars have been too good. We finally got a good car and we can run him. For him to win six races, that's awesome for him. And for me to win and beat him, it's awesome."
Crane brought a new car to the track last week and noticed immediate improvement, allowing her to be the first driver to take down Barnes in 2011.
"It's a really fast car," Crane says of her new ride. "The other car was not too fast, but the new car has been real good so far. The car is really consistent. It's the motor and the handling too. The motor is faster and it is a lot smoother."
Barring a major collapse, six wins on the season means Barnes all but has the points championship locked up. But with a win and three races left, Crane now feels that she has a good shot at another runner-up points finish.
In her fourth year of competition on the Thunder Ring, Crane has shown improvement with each passing year. She raced in the Papa John's Bandits division for the 2008-09 seasons, moving to the Morley Company Outlaws division in 2010. It was there she picked up her first career Thursday Thunder win, as well as a runner-up finish in the points standings.
"Really, it's just my crew chief teaching me a lot," Crane says of her improvement. "He's helped me fix my line, I was driving in too deep. That and you've just got to want it. This year I've wanted it so bad, being my last year in Bandoleros. I want to run well so I can remember it."
Crane will move up to the Legends division next season and looks forward to the challenges that wait. The new car will be bigger, and learning how it handles and how to drive it and make it go fast will be an adjustment. She will also have to shift gears in the new car, which will also be a new wrinkle.
Crane is part of the largest female Thursday Thunder field in series history, with up to six women driving full-time. The girls do stick together, and Crane enjoys the camaraderie.
"There are a lot of girls out there, but you just want to be a role model and bring more girls into the sport," says Crane. "We all love talking to each other, and we are really good friends. We all understand how we feel racing against the boys, so we connect and know how each other feel."
And in the boys versus girls argument, she says there is definitely a rivalry. And one side has the upper hand.
Crane mused, "They are getting better at it, but some of the boys really don't like getting beat, but they are getting used to it. The girls are dominating."
Points Races Taking Shape as Season Winds Down
With three weeks left in the 2011 Thursday Thunder season, points races are beginning to take shape and tighten up as the series hits the home stretch of the season. With some divisions becoming clearer as to whom the favorites are, others are wide open with only three weeks left to make a move.
In the Masters division, eight points is all that separates the top four drivers. Terry Mathis of Cumming, Bill Plemons, Jr. of Forsyth, Skip Nichols of Albany and Ed Clark of Peachtree City are all one corner away from potentially catapulting themselves to a championship or having an issue that could seriously jeopardize their chances for a title. Last week, Plemons, Jr. and Mathis finished one-two in the feature race, allowing Mathis to take the points lead by five points over Plemons, Jr. With his eighth place finish due to engine trouble, Clark went from leading the standings to being tied for third with Nichols, both eight points back.
With the win, Mathis claimed his second win of the season, and the car is dialing in at the right time.
"It was probably the best the car has run all year," says Mathis. "We've been working on the car all year. I haven't run at Atlanta since 1998, and I won the title that year. We've finally got it tuned in. I had a fast car [last week], but the only way to get around Bill was to move him, and that's not how I race. I hoped he would slip, but he didn't, he ran a good race. The last couple of weeks we've got to go. We have to run first or second every race. Plus, I will have to start in the rear being the points leader. Everybody has a bad run during the season. I've already had mine, and some haven't had theirs yet. It's going to be close, real close. It's going to come down to the last week unless something happens to someone."
Running for a championship late in the season will certainly be in a driver's thoughts, but it also can change how they race for the checkered flag.
"Sometimes a second is as good as a win when you are running for points," says Mathis. "Sometimes it is better to take second instead of trying to win and wreck the car. It's the part of the season I hate, in some ways. You have to play the protection game. If you are behind, you have nothing to lose. When you are running for points, you have to run what you've got. I've won two races this year, and should have won a couple more that I gave away. All of these guys are good, honest racers. I don't think we'd take each other out to win. We're all business men and we all have to get up and go to work on Friday."
In the Semi-Pro division, William Plemons III of Locust Grove and Luke Behnke of Fayetteville are locked in a tight tussle for the lead in the standings. Behnke took home victory last week, allowing himself to make up distance on Plemons III in the standings. Plemons III currently leads the division by six points over Behnke heading into week eight.
For Behnke, winning an overall points championship is objective number one.
"Starting off the season in week one, winning the championship was the main goal," says Behnke. "The first few weeks, we've [Behnke and Plemons III] been first and second each week. These last few weeks have been some rough racing. Not just for me, but everyone in general. That's been a big issue in our division. Winning last week was good. I knew I had a good car at the start of the race. I have to finish ahead of him in each of the last three races to win title, unless he has problem.
Not only have Behnke and Plemons III been the top two drivers in the Semi-Pro division this season, they are also good friends off the track. But a close friendship does nothing to deter from the desire to win.
"If we don't win it, that's destiny I guess," says Behnke. "If I lose to anyone, I would like it to be him. I have a lot of respect for him. We're real good friends, but super competitive. We don't go out and drive dirty, but we don't cut each other any slack. There's no room to give up.
"We have been real tight each week and finished in the top three each week. We will give our all and see where it ends up in week ten."
Belly Flop Contest is This Week's Featured Intermission Entertainment
This week's featured intermission entertainment will feature a belly flop contest for spectators to both participate in and enjoy. Fans looking to cool off from the Georgia summertime can head out to Thursday Thunder at Atlanta Motor Speedway and enjoy the inflatable pool that will be placed on the ball field. Fans will be selected from the crowd in attendance and the most entertaining flop will be selected by fan applause. Always a fan favorite, the belly flop contest is sure to bring out laughter and fun this Thursday at AMS.
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 .
For more information on Buzz Cars racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway Events Department at (770) 946-3954.
To test drive your own Legends machine, or for more information about Legends racing, call Legends of Georgia director Dwight Pilgram at (770) 707-2977 or visit www.legendsofga.com.