High car counts, new attractions highlight 19th season of Thursday Thunder getting underway
One of the most challenging Legends and Bandolero racing programs in the country, the Thursday Thunder Legends Series Presented by Papa John's Pizza, returns to the quarter-mile Thunder Ring at Atlanta Motor Speedway Thursday evening in what's already being billed as one of the most competitive seasons in its nearly two-decade history.
An expected high car count, several new rules and a crop of both up-and-coming and wily veterans have combined to set the stage for an eight-week, 10-race shootout across seven divisions of varying ages and skill on the same track where current NASCAR greats Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, David Ragan and many others first cut their teeth.
"Our alumni list is something we're very proud of," said Ed Clark, Atlanta Motor Speedway president. "For the young drivers coming in to the program, it shows them that if you come and race here, it's a great learning experience."
Last week, some of those promising young drivers got the chance to meet and interact with Thursday Thunder alumni Logano, Ragan and Reed Sorenson, who today can be found each weekend driving in NASCAR's top level. Legends drivers Joshua Hicks and Dylan Murry and Bandolero driver Nathan Jackson each said in a panel discussion with their NASCAR counterparts they would use the 2016 season as another stepping stone in their quest to add their names to the growing list of Thursday Thunder graduates in racing's top divisions.
But season championships are nothing short of difficult to lock down. When not battling the tough quarter mile of asphalt that is the Thunder Ring, the fight among competitors for track position and slick tires is a challenge in itself.
"Legends car racing is very competitive," said Sorenson. "You've got people on different levels, and I think you learn something new every week. These cars are not easy to drive. Anybody who has ever driven them knows that you need a lot of car control.
"What you can learn from these cars and what you can learn from the competition definitely helps you for that next level. These guys, at their age - and we thought this a long time ago - is the best choice to try to move up to that next level."
Racing Radios Pro Division
Pro class drivers will this season face all-new rules in the newly minted Racing Radios Pro Division. The Pro Division race will serve as the weekly "main event" with different rules from each of the other divisions. The Pro Division will run 25-lap feature events, more than any other class, and it will allow the driver and crew to utilize two-way radios during the race.
Additionally, it will utilize time-trial qualifying instead of heat races. It will incorporate a tire rule in which tires will be provided by AMS and impounded at the end of each race. Rules for the Racing Radios Pro Division will also require a RF spring of 175 pounds or more and will prohibit adjustments between qualifying and the feature race, except for air pressure adjustments.
The division will pay a purse that exceeds any that has ever been paid for a Thursday Thunder class. The winner will collect $300, with each of the top-10 finishers taking home a check of varying amounts.
Live Radio Broadcast
For the first time in Thursday Thunder history, Racing Radios Pro Division races will be broadcast live on AMS partner station and south metro Atlanta's destination for racing coverage, 92.5 FM The Bear. "Chadalac" Chad Feltman will provide live commentary from 9 to 10 p.m., covering all things Thursday Thunder prior to the main event, as well as play-by-play coverage of the race each week.
While there's little doubt some of this season's young drivers will one day fill the shoes of their NASCAR-driving predecessors, notable celebrities are slated to bring the star power to the Thunder Ring this season.
In Week 3, David Ragan will step out of his Sprint Cup Series car and back behind the wheel of a Legends car for the first time in several years to provide some NASCAR star power in the Racing Radios Pro Division. Ragan will drive in that week's back-to-back races on Wednesday and Thursday nights, June 15 and 16.
Grandstand admission for the affordable, family-friendly racing series is just $5 and free for children ages 5 and younger.
For more information, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211, (877) 9-AMS-TIX or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.