By Jeffery Armstrong
The sky was cloudy during the first Thursday Thunder race of 2004 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the clouds parted and the sun came out when Lawrenceville's Casey Roderick entered the winner's circle after winning the Atlanta Dental Team Bandolero Bandits race.
It might have been Roderick's late uncle Joe trying to get a better look at his nephew.
Roderick's uncle Joe passed away from cancer on May 14 and the 11-year-old driver paid tribute to him with "Uncle Joe No.33 written on the back of his hand.
"He was a great uncle and he loved racing," Roderick said.
He definitely would have loved the way Casey handled the track on Thursday. Roderick, last year's Bandits points champion, started this year's Thursday Thunder season the way he finished last year's season - with a win.
"It feels great to win this race, especially after dealing with a long school year," Roderick said. "It's a great way to start the summer, coming back here and winning."
Roderick said his car ran well despite an oil leak on Wednesday. He also felt a little ill Thursday morning but overcame that to win the race.
Roderick's father David was pleased the way Casey handled the track, especially since AMS officials put a new sealer on it.
"It is great that he won - it takes a lot of pressure off when you get a win in the first race of the year," David said. "We're running on last year's tires and we had to adjust to the track's sealer, so I'm really happy with the way things turned out."
David also said he was pleased with Casey's win because they haven't had time to focus heavily on racing because of Joe's recent death. He was 45.
"Joe was a big fan of Casey's and he would be proud of him," David said. "We're dedicating this win tonight to him."
Finishing behind Roderick in the Bandits race were Zachary Stroupe, Kyle Fowler, Cole Miktuk and Max Gresham.
"There's a bunch of good drivers in this division," Casey said. "It's going to be tough to win it again."
Other Thursday Thunder winners were Hampton's Chris Dilbeck (Pro division), Mark Wallace (Masters), Trey Maughan (Outlaws), Dale Akridge (Roadsters), Chase Moody (Young Guns), Chris Cable (Semi-Pro) and Todd Gulledge (Chargers).