(Christopher Clanton leads Robbie Woodall in practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway / LN Photo)
HAMPTON, GA : Another year has passed by and believe it or not the 20th season of the Thursday Thunder Series presented by Papa John’s Pizza begins tonight on the Thunder Ring at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This series has produced numerous current generation Monster NASCAR Energy Cup Series stars. The list of those who graduated from Thursday Thunder include MNECS race winners Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, David Ragan and Austin Dillon, who just won his first career race this past Sunday night in the Coca~Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Other big stars to come out of the Thursday Thunder program include Reed Sorenson, Chris Buescher, the race winner at Pocono last summer for his first career MNECS victory, and there are over 80 other drivers who have moved on to any of the top 4 NASCAR Touring Divisions in the 20 year history of Thursday Thunder.
The tradition continues on with second year Legends of Georgia director Ken Ragan, who has told LegendsNation that they are expecting between 105-120 race cars during the 10 week series. The work that Mr. Ragan has put into this program in just a short amount of time is remarkable, and the racers are coming back out from hiding, and many new fresh faces are taking a crack at trying to wheel a Bandolero or Legend car in 2017.
The Racing Radios Pro Division will once again be a chess match and involve some new format tweeks to the point system. Just like last year, all the drivers will draw for their sets of uncut race tires for the evening. If an effort to lower the cost of the class, which also mandates a 175 lb right front spring, Ragan came up with the tire rule for last season. It was a raving success and the competition showed on the track week in and week out as everyone had a shot to win on any given night. Last night the Pro drivers scrubbed in all the sets of tires to give them equal laps, which will bring the driver into the light as the difference when the green flag waves.
New this season, the NASCAR style playoff point format will make its debut. After round 7, the top 10 drivers in points, with wins locking a driver into the field if they compete in every round, will then race in an elimination style three race shootout to determine the champion.
As they go into the championship round, the top 6 drivers left will battle it out for 25 laps in a first across the line race to determine the champion. All 6 drivers will start inside the first three rows to make it an even fight right from the beginning.
The Pro field is very deep with talent and any one these drivers can win a race and the overall championship at the season’s end. Teenage stars Dawson Fletcher and Corey Heim have been racing side by side since their days in quarter midgets and now both have solid teams behind them to begin the chase for the Racing Radios Pro title. Heim is once again working with the experience of Matt Drake and Fab Specialties and has been lightning quick these last couple of practice days.
Teammates Will Martin and Mike Weed are both top-notch race winners and should be up in the front almost every week if the luck is on their side. They are both darkhorse picks for the championship, but don’t be surprised to see one of these two take the Thursday Thunder championship in a one-race shootout in August.
Canon Cochran has made the jump from Semi-Pro to Pro in 2017 and is excited about the challenges ahead. Having recently begun his Late Model career, Cochran wanted to come back for another shot at a Thursday Thunder championship. He shows incredible skill and drive and if the chips fall his way, look for Cochran to be a serious contender in the championship round.
Not to be outdone by the Pro drivers, the Masters will once again put on some of the hardest racing you will ever see in a Legend car. These guys are racing for bragging rights down at the local bingo hall and do not want to get beat on the track. 2016 Thursday Thunder champion Scott Moseley will be the man to beat each week as that familiar yellow #22 is always up near the top of the speed charts. However, teammate Robbie Woodall, Mark Swan and the wily veteran Bill Plemons, Jr. will definitely give Moseley a run for the championship and race wins. Watch as possible outside invaders make random appearances to put the pressure on the locals to defend their turf.
The Legends Semi-Pro class has one of the deepest and most competitive fields they have had in several years. Christopher Clanton, a long time veteran of racing on the Thunder Ring has probably his best shot to claim the Semi-Pro championship in his career. With new team support and sponsorship from the Associates Group Insurance, Clanton, who is the son of dirt track star Joey Clanton has new-found excitement for the upcoming campaign.
Other faces to watch in the Semi-Pro class include Cody Hall. Hall is having a breakout season in the Legend car this year with multiple wins between Atlanta Motor Speedway and Crisp Motorsports Park. Under the technical tuning help of Andy James, and coaching from William Plemons, III, Hall has found the consistency on the track to be a major factor each and every week. Don’t be surprised to see multiple wins and a Thursday Thunder title with the Griffin, Georgia driver after the 10 weeks.
Rafe Slate and the Solid Rock Racing team have a new look and new number for the 2017 season. Slate has been very happy with the car and the car and driver have speed to run up front. Slate should collect at least a couple of wins, and if he stays consistent enough, he will be in the hunt for the Semi-Pro championship.
The hottest driver currently in the Semi-Pro ranks is Jason Treschl. Treschl is coming off a successful 3 wins in 4 events during the spring Furious Four series, which included taking home the championship. The blue #31 is always fast around the Thunder Ring and if anyone wants to be the Semi-Pro champion they will need to get passed Treschl to do so.
The youngest faces in the Legend car garage area always put on some of the craziest, yet at times most competitive events on the track. 2016 INEX Bandolero Bandits national champion Clayton Thompson is in his first full season in a Legend car. Thompson has already racked up two wins here at Atlanta this season and the Furious Four Young Lions championship. Last year, Thompson claimed a Thursday Thunder record 9 straight race wins to begin the series. Thompson went on to a dominate performance in the championship with a second place in the final week being is his worst result. Can Thompson repeat that success in a Legend car this year? It will be tough for sure, but expect some wins out of the Bowersville, GA driver.
Ryan Rackley has already made a name for himself here in the short time he has been in a Legend car. Rackley purchased the former car driven to success by Atlanta Motor Speedway track president Ed Clark over the winter time. With the new coaching and set-up advice from Drake and Fab Specialties helping the 12-year-old Rackley, this former karting star is already a threat to find race wins.
In just his second season behind the wheel of a Legend car, Griffin, Georgia’s Hunter Johnson has already opened the eyes of Ragan and the competitors in the garage area. Johnson takes very good care of his equipment and is a very hard racer in doing so. Johnson picked up a win in the Furious Four series this spring and lost the title by virtue of a tie-breaker. His goals for Thursday Thunder include consistent runs, finding victory lane and eventually becoming the Young Lions champion for Thursday Thunder. Look for the black and dayglow #88 to be up front every week fighting for victories.
The Bandolero Outlaws class is wide open this summer. With last year’s champion having moved on to Legend cars, the field that is assembled is stout and close. Furious Four champion Blaise Maddox scored two wins in that series and the #47 is always fast on the track. If Maddox can avoid finding trouble or creating it with his aggressive style, he will be a top three finisher each week. Look for the new look Bandolero on the track to be just as fast as the graphics make it look standing still.
Quietly and sometimes sideways as he screeches the tires, Nathan Jackson also had two wins in the Furious Four series and just missed out on the championship. Jackson loves the Thunder Ring and will hang the car out sideways around every corner without losing speed. His style is wide open, but he is a front-runner and the Kid’s Bouncy Things car is one to watch all summer long.
Ashton Whitener enters this season’s Thunder will renewed optimism and hope for a solid campaign. Whitener is running for national points and after a strong showing at Winter Nationals back in February, she is ready to rock on the Thunder Ring. Don’t be shocked at all if Whitener ends up with a win or more, and is the highest finishing female racer in any of the categories competing this year.
The Bandolero Bandits class is full of new and fresh talent as the veterans of the division have all moved on to other classes. Kenneth Henderson came within a small fraction of being the Furious Four champion and no doubt is definitely motivated to show how good the K-Man is on the Thunder Ring’s biggest stage. Henderson has to be the favorite for the championship as the series begins, but he will have his work cut out for him to defeat the depth that will be challenging him.
All the way from Mobile, Alabama Grant Thompson was watching the Bandoleros race from the grandstands with his father just two years ago. The itch to drive and compete in one didn’t take long after that for Thompson to have his own Bandolero, that he is now winning races in. Thompson took home the Furious Four championship by a slim margin and is more than a dark horse candidate for the Thursday Thunder championship this year. Thompson is fast every time on the track and has proven he can run with all the more experienced drivers. Thompson will be a factor in who wins the championship at the Thunder Ring.
Perhaps the smallest competitor is size, but that does not reflect his driving talent is Max Hennebaul. Hennebaul is the younger cousin of Monster NASCAR Energy Cup Series race winner David Ragan, and his Bubba Burgers #27 Bandolero is hot standing still and just as hot on the track. Hennebaul is in his final year in Bandoleros as the 11 year-old will move up to Legends beginning in the 2017 off-season. With Atlanta being the home track for the Ragan’s the pressure is a little increased for Hennebaul to run well, score wins and be a threat to take the championship after the 10 rounds are completed.
LegendsNation.com will have more content and stories as the 20th edition of Thursday Thunder unfolds throughout the summer beginning tonight, June 1st at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
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