Fireworks expected tonight

From staff reports

Last season, Mahlon Winstead began his Thursday Thunder career without much fanfare. In four of his first nine races, he finished 11th-20th, and he never cracked the top 5. Now he's leading the Chargers division standings.

Winstead has been a force to be reckoned with this season, finishing fourth or higher every week. He earned his first career win during week 2, celebrating as though he'd won the NEXTEL Cup championship.

AMS President Ed Clark, also a Tanger Outlet Center Masters driver, delighted in Winstead's youthful glee after winning.

"It was great to see someone who has progressed so much in racing be so enthusiastic about his win," Clark said. "I haven't seen someone get that excited about winning in a long time. It was the epitome of what a first career Legends win should look like."

His dad also noticed his son's reaction when he returned to the garage.

"Excited about winning, that's one way of putting it," he said with a wry grin."

After a second place-finish last week, Winstead extended his lead in the points chase over Todd "Catfish" Gulledge by 21 points.

Winstead, who works with Freeman Aviation at the Griffin-Spalding airport, will begin his senior year at Pike County high school this fall.

Unidentified flapping objects: No, it's not a chicken that's flopping on back of that Legends car, it's a rubber duck ? or is it a Tweety doll?

Brent Seeley of Dallas, Texas, has two Legends car, and each has a rubber animal tied to the back of it, behind the driver's head. He claims that they are good luck charms because they serve as distractions to other drivers.

"If they can see what's flappin', that means that I am ahead of them," he said. "And since they are focusing on what's waving in the air, they won't be trying to catch me."

Sponsored by Cooper Performance Engines, Seeley started out on the golf team in high school before he began racing. However, the two sports eventually crossed paths and one or the other had to go.

"I really didn't make the final decision," he said. "I spent so much time practicing with my car that I didn't go to golf practice. They finally decided that I shouldn't show up to games anymore."

It turned out to be a good decision. Seeley won the 2002 Texas Bandolero Young Guns State Championship and the 2003 Young Lions Legends National Championship.

Racin' and fireworks: If racing and fireworks are on your July agenda, then Atlanta Motor Speedway is the place to be. In addition to the fantastic fireworks show following the evening's racing, there will also be special games for children and families all night. As always, admission will be just $5 for adults, $1 for children 6-12 and free for children 5 and under.

William Hung to appear at Thursday Thunder: Known best for his heartfelt and energetic performance of "She Bangs" on this year's American Idol competition, William Hung will make a special appearance at the July 15 Thursday Thunder events.

Hung will sign autographs for 30 minutes after the gates open at 6 p.m. and sing several songs throughout the night of racing.

Cover trying to break through: Last season, after just five weeks in the Semi-Pro division of Atlanta Motor Speedway's Thursday Thunder, Douglasville's L.J. Cover moved up to the series' top division, the Pro class.

His competitors questioned the move. Race officials even wondered quietly if he was trying to move too fast.

But Cover, who had won one race and racked up three DNFs (did not finish) in the first five races of last season's Semi-Pro competition, decided he would rather run at the back of the Pro division than wreck every week.

"I had a choice n I could keep tearing up equipment, going home early, getting almost no laps in with the Semi-Pro division," Cover said. "Or I could follow the Pro drivers around a couple weeks, stay out of trouble and learn as much as possible. We decided that was a much better game plan."

One that paid off almost immediately. In his first race with the Pro division last year, Cover finished second. He went on to rack up two more top-10 finishes before the season ended.

This season, Cover has four top-fives in the first four races in the Don Bell Signs Pro division.