By Brian Paglia
A truck approaches, growling diesel, lurching among the garages at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
As it passes Billy Stevenson's Legends car, it slows. The driver leans out for a few seconds. He glances at Stevenson's little car. The truck casts a shadow over the 5/8-scale replica of a 1932 Ford Coupe, and the driver smiles. He seemed simultaneously amused and intrigued by Stevenson's car.
But it seems many are these days.
The Locust Grove native has become the first driver to drive a Legends car, normally reserved for AMS's Thursday Thunder summer series, in the Friday Night Drag series in its five-year history. Oh, Stevenson still races on Thursday nights. And that's the gap Stevenson has bridged that no one had thought to before.
"I sit up there in the stands on Friday nights," Stevenson said, "looking at all these different cars and even lawn mowers. ...I'd never seen a Legends car. You've got 100 of these Legends cars out here the night before, and for not one person did it click.
"I said, 'Hey, let's bring it to Friday night and just see what it does against the average car."
With a few adjustments, Stevenson has transitioned his Legends car with impressive success. He's won four races, often against ostensibly more formidable and powerful machines. Mustang GTs. Chevy Chevelles. Trucks.
He's sat at the starting line next to a myriad of cars.
Most of the time, he crosses the finish line before them.
"They don't think much about me until you get your Mustang GT you just bought from Ford factory," Stevenson said, "and when they lift the hands down to start, the Mustang's still sitting there and I'm already gone."
The physics of Stevenson's success appear simple. Take a 1,300-pound Legends car. Insert a water-cooled Yamaha R1000 engine. Suddenly, his car is lighter. Suddenly, it has 150 horsepower.
Let's say his competition was a Honda Civic, a car with similar horsepower, but a car with far more extra weight. Seventeen hundred pounds more.
Stevenson has defeated Hondas, and similar sized vehicles, by almost half a track.
"The power-to-weight ratio is just crazy," Stevenson said. "It's not the fastest thing here by any means, but for what it is and the money that I have in it - which is under $3,000 - it holds its own."
The story of Stevenson bringing a pint-sized Legends car into a showcase of strident and hulking vehicles begins a few dozen rows up in the stands.
Last summer, Stevenson competed in Thursday Thunder and often attended Friday Night Drags the next night. He wondered why no one had thought to put a Legends car on the pit land drag strip.
So over the winter he bought another Legends car. He spent the cold months tinkering. All he had to do was install the new engine, wax the jet black exterior and pull it in his trailor.
It was a way, he said, to bring more exposure to Thursday Thunder and Legends cars in general. Something that was so different, but seemed so obvious.
"This is something to link Henry County, Atlanta Motor Speedway and racing all together," Stevenson said. "Kind of help promote Thursday Thunder.
"(Friday Night Drag) has been going on for five years. How is it five years later someone finally comes up with a brain fart to bring a little Legends car out here? Me, I was just trying to be different."