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Who will graduate from Thursday Thunder to NASCAR?

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

Well, another year of Thursday Thunder at Atlanta Motor Speedway is about to pull into the garage.

In two weeks it will all be over. New champions will be crowned, and 10 weeks of competitive racing will be in the books for another season.

I have watched Thursday Thunder grow from an unknown grassroots racing program starting in 1998, into a huge phenomena where racers of all ages and abilities fill their need for speed, competing on the AMS quartermile.

Since my first trip to cover a Thursday Thunder event 13 years ago, I have learned something. The sweet smell of racing fuel and the roar of an engine brings out the competitive fires in most drivers.

There are two kinds of racers who strap themselves into a car at Thursday Thunder each week.

Those young kids who go to sleep dreaming of someday winning the Daytona 500, and that person who has no desire to take his or her racing skills past this level of competition.

No matter what category the driver fits into, the racing is intense, especially this late in the season where points titles are on the line and one bad race can bring the season crashing down.

Legends and Bandolero racing is a perfect way to spot who has a chance to someday make a living on a big-time racing circuit.

I still remember when a young Joey Logano was winning races in the Bandits Division. Reed Sorenson dominated things in the Young Lions, and David Ragan raced his way to a points title in the Semi-Pros.

These days the trio has gone on to something with a little more power--a full fledged NASCAR ride, as they compete in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series.

Are there some current Thursday Thunder drivers who might just one day race side-by-side with them in NASCAR, rubbing paint as they head down the front stretch in Atlanta's Labor Day event?

I wouldn't bet against it.

It could be Parker Barnes.

He is dominating the Outlaws Division with seven win in eight starts.

Then there is Joshua Hicks, who has taken the checkered flag in the Bandits Division, winning five times.

Mason Massey's disappointing 12th-place run Thursday night in the Young Lions Division helped the plot thicken in the chase to find a points champion, but with five victories under his belt this year, his racing future is on solid ground.

Alex Coffey, a former Bandolero champion, is suffering some growing pains in his move into a Legends car, but as he gets more comfortable, his career should start to click again.

Perhaps one of the young women currently competing on Thursdays at AMS will make the jump to the big time.

In the Outlaw Division, Madeline Crane currently sits third, Taylor Jorgensen is sixth and Amber Fleeman is 10th.

Only time will tell if any of these drivers have a future in NASCAR, but one thing is for sure, it will be fun watching them try and get there.

Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Herald. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com.