AMS challenges local drivers

By Anthony Rhoads

Atlanta Motor Speedway's Thunder Ring may be only a quarter-mile long but it's big on the challenges it presents local drivers.

If you talk to the drivers who compete in Atlanta Motor Speedway's Thursday Thunder summer racing series, the consensus is that the track is definitely challenging.

Henry County High School senior and Legends Pro Division competitor Chris Dilbeck has competed at several local and national tracks including Atlanta, Lanier, Senoia and Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte.

"It's all driver here but up there (in Charlotte) there's so many cars," Dilbeck said. "In Charlotte it's pretty much the luck of the draw."

With the quarter-mile track in Atlanta being flat, a driver has to approach it differently than at other tracks such as Senoia, which is high-banked.

At high-banked tracks, drivers can put the pedal to the medal all around the track but at Atlanta, they have to use a little more finesse.

"It's completely different," the 2003 Thursday Thunder Young Guns champion Trey Maughan said. "Here's it's like two dragstrips with two turns. Over there (at Senoia), you can drive wide open but here in the Bandoleros, you have to let off the gas going into the turns."

Jim Gresham, the 2003 Thursday Thunder Roadsters champion, has raced at many other tracks such as Richmond and Bristol but ranks Atlanta at the top.

"This is the most difficult track in the United States," Gresham said. "If you can race here, you can race anywhere. It's a challenge."

Gresham competes in both the Roadsters and the Legends Masters Division. The Roadsters feature open-wheel cars that are similar to the Indy cars of the 1960s while the Legends cars are 5/8 reproductions of classic cars from the 1930s and 40s.

On the bigger tracks both cars can post fast speeds with the Roadsters hitting top speeds of around 135 mph.

"They're totally different," Gresham said. "The Thunder Roadsters are more like driver a full-size car. The Legends are like rollerskating on ice. It's a tremendous challenge to drive."

The Legends cars are continuing to gain popularity and such NASCAR Winston Cup drivers such as Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have spent time racing in the Legends cars.

"If you can drive these cars, you can drive anything," Dilbeck said.

Atlanta Motor Speedway's Thursday Thunder series starts next Thursday and continues for 10 weeks throughout the summer.