As the Thursday Thunder series heads into its next to last week of competition for the 2011 season, each lap on the Thunder Ring could have a major impact on the points races in several divisions.
The Masters division features the tightest of points races, with the top four drivers within six points of each other. Albany's Skip Nichols and Forsyth's Bill Plemons, Jr. sit tied atop the standings, with Cumming's Terry Mathis lurking one point back. Peachtree City's Ed Clark holds down the fourth spot, six points out of the lead.
Mathis entered week eight as the points leader and a fourth-place finish proved that each and every position is critical when determining the standings. The fourth-place finish was another top-five for Mathis, but Nichols' victory and Plemons' runner-up finish relegated him to third in the standings.
The Semi-Pro division also features a tight battle among the top-two drivers. Fayetteville's Luke Behnke and Locust Grove's William Plemons III are separated by only seven points heading into week nine. Last week, Plemons and Senoia's Tyler Armstrong made contact racing for the lead, spinning Plemons. Both drivers spent the rest of the race making their way back to the front of the field. In the meantime, Behnke won his third race of the season and catapulted himself to the lead in the standings.
In some cases, last week's races saw the points standings change not only with each lap, but with each corner and each pass. With these two divisions highlighting the championship battles for 2011, this week's Thursday Thunder will be high drama racing.
Driver Profile: Parker Barnes
One of the most dominating forces in 2011 at Thursday Thunder is Roswell native Parker Barnes. Barnes has been the man to beat each and every week in the Morley Company Outlaws division, claiming his seventh win in eight starts last week. The only driver to defeat Barnes in competition this year is Meansville's Madeline Crane in week seven. In that race, Barnes fell short of an undefeated season, as he chased her to the finish line and brought home a runner-up finish.
"It's my team," says Barnes when asked about his success. "They do everything for me. It wouldn't be possible without them. We had a chance to go undefeated. Then week seven I got into the wall. Due to the rain, we were able to put the car back together. But Maddie outdrove me and she had a better car. I can't take anything away from her. We had a good run for a while, but we came back last week and won. My team gives me a car each week to get up front. Starting eighth is hard to do, but when you have a good car, anything can happen."
With such success, the Morley Company Outlaws points chase is one of the more complete races, as Barnes leads second place driver John Curtiss of Columbus by 67 points.
Despite the title almost being in hand, there will be no sandbagging from Barnes.
"We're out here to race and win, so I'm always going after everything," says Barnes. "Most of the time I can sit back and not go as hard. If I do win the championship, it's all because of my team. They give me everything that they can to get me out there and finish up front."
Barnes is a relative newcomer to the Thursday Thunder ranks, getting his start at AMS last season. In his maiden voyage of Thursday Thunder competition, Barnes claimed his first win and a respectable third place in the points standings. He then backed that success up with a Winter Flurry championship this past off-season.
Coming off a rookie season, that title was a major reinforcement to Barnes that he could do well.
"That was my first championship," says Barnes. "It gave me the confidence to run well at Atlanta if I had a good car. Racing in the Winter Flurry gave me confidence. Then this season, we went to week one and won the heat race, and then won the feature. That boosted me up, knowing I could run with everyone."
Barnes is easily qualified for the Labor Day Legends Invitational on September 2. With the race being an "all-star" type of event, he says that factor does not change how you prepare for the race.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," says Barnes. "I'm happy that I'm qualified, but it's just like any other race. Yeah, it's on the NASCAR weekend and we get more experience with everyone out watching, but it's just like any other race. With it being an invitational-type event, it's going to be a lot of fun to race with everyone that has qualified. It's an honor."
Racing is a family affair for the Barnes family, as Parker's younger brother, Devon, competes in the Bandits division. The "other" Barnes has put together an impressive rookie season, winning twice and currently residing in third in the points standings.
"He's done great this year," says the older Barnes. "We've started to figure out the things we need to do to give him a god car, and he's starting to get up front. We didn't think he'd progress as fast as he has. He went from no experience and no success to racing up front."
Upcoming Excitement at Thursday Thunder
Fans are encouraged to mark their calendars for week 10 of Thursday Thunder on August 4. Not only will 2011 points champions be crowned, but local driver Joey Clanton will be back on track competing in the Thunder Roadster division. Clanton is a racing veteran, formerly competing in the Legends division, NASCAR Camping World Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series and the ASA series, where he is a former champion. He'll be looking to use his experience to battle the series regulars when he straps into a Thunder Roadster on August 4.
Kids Box Car Races are This Week's Featured Intermission Entertainment
This week's featured intermission entertainment will feature box car races for kids. One of the more popular summer traditions at Thursday Thunder, box car races are fun for the whole family. A family of four can come to Atlanta Motor Speedway, take in an evening of racing, gain autographs, play games, and be a part of the show with the intermission entertainment for less than the cost of going to a movie. Thursday Thunder at Atlanta Motor Speedway is a fan-friendly and cost-efficient way to spend time together just before the kids return to school.
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.