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A Hung (with) jury ahead

From staff reports

The American Idol phenomenon has spread to the Thursday Thunder racing series at Atlanta Motor Speedway. For the past five weeks, contestants have stepped up to the microphone for their chance at stardom. Just like the show, some took the competition seriously, others did it for fun, but all enjoyed the chance of being in the spotlight.

Race fans signed up for Legends idol via an entry sheet on concourse during Thursday night's events. Three fans were selected at random to perform each week.

Contestants then selected one song to perform a capella in front of a crowd of racing fans. Then Hampton's own trio of judges n similar to American Idol's own Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and the infamous Simon Cowell n critique each singer's performance. A winner is determined by Thursday Thunder fans, who cheer for their favorite.

"The judges were pretty cool," said Sarah Wheeler, winner of week two. "They tried to be funny and make jokes, which made it a lot more comfortable to perform."

Based on the applause of the audience, the winner is not only the celebrity of the evening, but also gets to come back for the finals on July 29. Already in the running for the first Legends Idol crown, in addition to Wheeler, are Kristi Collins, Meghan Lawhead, Rachel Cole, and John Sander. A total of seven will compete as two more performers qualify in the remaining weeks.

This week's three contestants will get an added bonus during their critique portion, as they will be encouraged by the inspirational words of American Idol contestant William Hung, Thursday Thunder's special guest.

William Hung, known best for his heartfelt and energetic performance of "She Bangs" on the third season of the America Idol competition, will be there to watch the Legends Idol competition and to sings several songs throughout the night.

Much like the title of his debut album Inspiration, Hung will provide a positive reinforcement and inspire the Legends Idol participants as they pursue their dreams.

Hung has left an impact on audiences that success can happen even without professional training. Contestants who compete in the Legends Idol competition hope to have done the same.

"I was surprised by the audience reaction," said Forest Park resident John Sander, last week's winner, who received a standing ovation after his version of George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today" by George Jones. "I like to karaoke and have had better performances, but I'm just glad that I didn't get booed."

Leaders: The season points leaders going into the sixth week of Thursday Thunder are Casey Roderick in Bandits, Mahlon Winstead in Chargers, Daniel Moore in Young Guns, Sean Davis in Semi-Pro, Trey Maughan in Outlaws, Brian Weimer in Masters, Jim Egloff in Roadsters and Chris Dilbeck in Pro.

Around the tracks: Thursday Thunder drivers continue to do well at other tracks throughout the region.

Saturday at Senoia, Vince Ponder finished second in the Bandolero race. Thursday Thunder Semi-Pro points leader Sean Davis finished fifth at Lanier Saturday while Dwight Pilgram finished second in the Pro/Masters race.

At Lowe's Motor Speedway's Summer Shootout series Tuesday in Charlotte, Thursday Thunder alumnus and former Eagle's Landing student David Ragan won the Pro Division race. Beau Slocumb finished third and Chris Dilbeck placed seventh.

Ryan Jernigan won the Outlaws race and Cole Miktuk won the Bandits race. Kyle Fowler placed third and Max Gresham placed fifth in the Bandits race.

Injury update: McDonough's Doug Stevens continues to recover from injuries sustained at a May 7 ASA crash at Kentucky Speedway. At last week's Thursday Thunder, Stevens was walking with a handmade crutch for the first time since the accident.

Stevens, who works on many of the Legends cars that compete at Thursday Thunder and has won the Pro division championship a record four times, is intent on returning to the race track as soon as possible.

He has currently set his goal to return on, Aug. 5 n the final night of Thursday Thunder racing.