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Nice guys can still finish first

By Anthony Rhoads

I have had the privilege of meeting a lot of good folks in the last five years as a sports writer at the News-Daily and Daily Herald.

But one of the genuinely nicest guys I have ever met has been racecar diver Jimmy Kite.

I first met Kite in July of 2000 when the Indy Racing League came to Atlanta Motor Speedway. The vast majority of the drivers were nice guys like Eddie Cheever and Greg Ray but it was neat to see a local guy compete in a major open-wheel racing league.

Kite and his family let us come out to his home to do a photo shoot and feature story. He also did a behind-the-scenes diary for us during race week that added an extra dimension to our race coverage. He went out of his way to help us out when he really didn't have to.

The race didn't turn out the way Kite wanted. He had to start at the back of the back but worked his way into the top 10. His night ended early when his car blew and engine. He was understandably upset but after the race he was very accommodating to fans who came into the garage area to get autographs. Even though he had a disappointing race he still took time out for his fans. That's just the kind of guy he is. Cheever probably said it best - "everybody likes Jimmy Kite."

Kite had 23 Indy Racing League starts and even had the chance to compete in four Indy 500s with two top-15 finishes in 1998 and 2003.

This year, Kite made the transition to NASCAR in the Craftsman Truck Series and has posted two top-20s. He was 19th in his Truck Series debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway and was 18th in this past weekend's race in St. Louis.

Hopefully, Kite will be able to build on those two races and move up in the NASCAR ranks.

If he does achieve success in NASCAR and makes it to Nextel Cup, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Thursday Thunder right around the corner: One of my favorite things to cover every year is the Thursday Thunder summer racing series at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the 2005 season is less than a month away.

The 2005 season kicks off June 2 and continues for 10 weeks throughout the summer.

One of the neatest things about the series is that you might be watching future NASCAR stars. Reed Sorenson is the most famous Thursday Thunder alumnus, as he is racing a full NASCAR Busch Series schedule this year but several other guys like David Ragan, Joey Clanton, Joey Logano, Michelle Theriault and Doug Stevens have gone on to race in national series.

While some drivers are using Thursday Thunder as a stepping stone to big-time racing, the series is also a chance for guys to race just for the fun of it. One of the most fun divisions in Thursday Thunder is the Masters Division for drivers who are 40-years or older. Guys like Skip Nichols and Dwight Pilgram are definitely out there to win but they also have a lot of fun and there's a lot of camaraderie.

Those guys will race furiously on the track but in the garages they'll do anything to help each other out.

That's not to say things don't get heated at times but the atmosphere is much more laid back and grassroots-oriented than the NASCAR series.

Anthony Rhoads is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at arhoads@news-daily.com .