Photo by Heather Middleton
By Derrick Mahone
Alex Coffey knew there would be an adjustment period in making the switch from a Bandolero to a Legends car in the Thursday Thunder summer series.
After winning the Bandits division last season, the 13-year-old McDonough native made the move up into a more powerful Legends car. And as expected, he is taking his lumps as he learns the mechanics of driving the 140 horsepower engine.
"We knew it would be a learning year," said Coffey's father, Doug. "There has been a lot to learn."
Coffey's problem is not uncommon for youngster making the switch in cars.
In addition to more horsepower, drivers have to learn about the shifting involved with driving a Legends car.
"You come out of the corners and you have to go," said veteran driver Tina Johnson, who switched from a Bandolero to a Legend five years ago.
"There is a huge difference in driving the two cars," she said. "The Legends is more of a true race car. You have to learn the speeds and how to control it."
In winning the Bandits division at Atlanta Motor Speedway last season, the younger Coffey placed first four times and was runner-up three times. Prior to winning it all last year at AMS, Coffey's worst finish was 12th in the points standing in 2007, his first racing season.
Racing in what is called the Young Lions division (for ages 12-15), Coffey is 10th in the points standings. In four starts this race season, he has two top 10 finishes.
"It has been kind of weird this summer, because I had gotten use to winning," Coffey said. "It has been a little frustrating seeing other drivers out run me."
But he hasn't full lost confidence in his driving despite the slow start. Doug Coffey said he has seen tremendous improvement in his son since the start of the season.
"He just needs more seat time in the car," said William Plemons III, who has been giving Coffey tips and encouragement. "This can play on your mind so he has to keep his confidence up. I've told him to set obtainable goals. I think he has his head in the right place, he just needs some experience."
Said Coffey: "All this advice is really helping me."
Most drivers said it will soon show up on the track in competing in more races.
Coffey is finding plenty of encouragement and advice around the garage each week at AMS. He has worked with several of the veteran drivers and personnel around the race track throughout the course of the summer.
Coffey had the option of returning to driving a Bandolero this summer, but after his family was able to secure a sponsor, they decided to make the move to the Legends car. Doug Coffey said there has been no regret on their part for choosing the tougher racing car.
"It has been somewhat frustrating, but we are seeing encouraging signs," Doug Coffey said. "He is shaving time off with each race. We are committed to it right now."