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THURSDAY THUNDER: Atlanta Motor Speedway’s most popular grassroots racing series ready for its 18th season

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Jensen and Taylor Jorgensen have been two of the winningest Thursday Thunder drivers over the last several years. (File)

Jensen and Taylor Jorgensen have been two of the winningest Thursday Thunder drivers over the last several years. (File)

By James Butler

HAMPTON, Ga. — Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark helped kick off another Thursday Thunder Legends Series season as the AMS held its Media Day for the grassroots series and racers were allowed to practice for the first time on Wednesday.

“This is always an exciting time for the competitors,” Clark said. “Everybody’s going to win the championship. Everybody’s going to win every race. You’re just chomping at the bit to get started.”

The racing series’ 18th season will start Thursday June 4th and conclude on July 23rd. Through Thursday Thunder, Clark has seen Legends and Bandolero cars grow to be a staple of the track.

“It’s hard to believe I actually was in the room when the concept of racing [Legends] cars began up at Charlotte Motor Speedway years ago,” Clark said. “This will be our 18th full season of Thursday Thunder.”

One change in this year’s Thursday Thunder series is that the all-time leader in wins (54) and championships (8) will not be behind a wheel. Skip Nichols, who won the last two Masters Division championships, has hung up his helmet, but he will serve as the crew chief for his 10-year-old grandson Wilder Etheredge.

“I’m really looking forward to getting on the sidelines, being there for my grandson Wilder, and hopefully he’ll get the same opportunity I got, if that’s what he wants to do, to pursue a career in racing,” Nichols said.

Etheredge, who participated last year as a nine-year-old in the Beginning Bandolero series, says he has learned a lot in his one year of racing and that it is fun working with his granddad. An all-around athlete and baseball player, Etheridge said he isn’t surprised by winning as he won his first ever race in Week 9 a season ago.

“Just like winning baseball and [tournaments],” Etheredge said.  He added that he does not see one as being more fun than the other. He “just likes winning.”

Thursday Night Thunder has divisions for racers as young as Etheredge and for adults as experienced as Nichols.

“This is a good program for young kids like Wilder as well as a good program for old-timers like me,” Nichols said. “I got to run against Ed Clark in the same division. We had a lot of good times.”

Racing on the quarter-mile “Thunder Ring” at AMS has proven itself to be a great teacher and career launching pad for some of the nation’s best NASCAR drivers.

“We’ve been told by drivers [throughout] the Sprint Cup circuit that this is quite the challenge to come here and race on a quarter-mile track that’s really fast,” Clark said. “It’s a great learning environment for young drivers like Wilder to come in and began their careers here and learn and go on to bigger and better things.”

Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, and Reed Sorenson, and David Ragan are some of the drivers who have participated in Thursday Thunder during their development as a racer.

“If you can drive on this track, you’re going to be good on any other track you go to,” Nichols said. “I can certainly attest to that because I’ve been to many race tracks over my 55 years of racing. This is one of the hardest tracks to get a handle on.”

And with rising stars like Jensen and Taylor Jorgensen, Joshua Hicks and others who have consistently won on the quarter-mile course over the years, there is a good chance we will be hearing big things from those who get the best handle on it this season in the future.

 

 

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