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'Long time coming' for Clanton

By Anthony Rhoads

Joey Clanton has been waiting for this moment all his life.

As a Jonesboro native, Atlanta Motor Speedway was just a few minutes down the road and it was a place he someday wanted to race at.

The goal of racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway wasn't the pipe dream of a youngster fantasizing about becoming a race-car driver but it was a real-life process that began with him spending time at local tracks with his father Billy, a legendary dirt-track racer.

As a driver on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Clanton will finally get his chance to race at Atlanta Motor's Speedway in the EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 200.

Last year, Clanton raced 18 events with one top-five finish on the NASCAR Busch Series with Brewco Motorsports. But Clanton missed out on competing at Atlanta's Busch race in the fall because he and Brewco parted ways before the end of the season.

This season, Clanton is racing the No. 40 Optech Chevrolet for the Virginia-based Key Motorsports race team.

"It's a long-time coming," Clanton said of finally racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "We were close last year."

With Clanton competing in today's race, there's sure to be a large local contingent cheering him on. Many of Clanton's friends and family are planning to come out to support their local driver.

"We've got a lot of people so there's added pressure to make the race," Clanton said.

One local fan coming out to see Clanton is Jon Shoemaker, Clanton's former business partner. Clanton and Shoemaker with partners in Racing Concepts, a local business that specialized in working on Legends cars.

"I think it's great," Shoemaker said. "It looks like the kind of deal he wants. He can call some shots and I think he likes that because he's able to use his engineering degree."

Shoemaker and Clanton weren't only business partners but they helped each other in their racing endeavors. Shoemaker's son Charles worked on Clanton's crew for awhile in the American Speed Association and Clanton was Shoemaker's crew chief in Legends racing.

In Friday's practice runs, Clanton didn't run as fast as he wanted. Clanton was 32nd in practice with his fastest lap being 32.133 seconds (172.533 mph).

Clanton qualified 32nd with a speed of 174.181 Friday afternoon.

"The main thing for us as a new race team is for us to get into our routine," Clanton said. "We need to get into our routine and figure out what we need to do and correct mistakes so we can run better. The truck is running good. Atlanta is fun. You have to have the right set-up to make it fun but it is a fun track."

Clanton finished 32th in his Craftsman Truck debut at Daytona after getting caught up in a wreck.

Clanton began racing at local tracks as a teen-ager and graduated from Jonesboro High School. He went on to Georgia Tech, where he earned a mechanical engineering degree.

After college, he raced in Atlanta Motor Speedway's Thursday Thunder and Lowe's Motor Speedway's Summer Shootout series in 1999.

In 2000, he hooked up with Steve Dale Motorsports for a deal to race in the American Speed Association, one of the top short-track leagues in the country. The ASA has produced many drivers who have gone on to success in the Nextel Cup including Darrell Waltrip, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth.

Clanton began his ASA career by winning the ASA Pat Schauer Rookie of the Year. He followed that up with a successful sophomore season and finished third in points in 2001.

The 2002 ASA season belonged to Clanton. He started the season with five straight victories and by the time the season was over, he won nine of 20 races that year to capture the ASA national points championship.

Clanton returned to the ASA for one race last year and won that event.