Photo by Brian Paglia
Connor Younginer, from Stockbridge, got a late start to racing, but sits in fifth place in points in the Bandits division, just 24 points behind the leaders.
Only in racing can a 1996 Mustang turn into a Legends car for dad then a Bandolero for son.
Those were the deals Mark Younginer made to get his family on the track at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Thursday Thunder. This was no shooting-for-NASCAR ploy. Just economics.
Younginer reaps the dividends every week. The Stockbridge-native’s oldest son, Connor, 9, drives the No. 107 Bandolero in the Bandits division and leads the nerf football games around the garages. His youngest son, Ryan, 5, drives the Jeff Gordon No. 24 DuPont car — matchbox-sized — around the tools and air hoses and beach chairs. His wife, Sharon, doesn’t hesitate to step in and adjust tire pressure.
Atlanta Motor Speedway pitches Thursday Thunder as a “family-friendly” night of racing.
There may not be a better embodiment than the Younginers.
“We’re just here to have fun,” Mark Younginer said.
And yet, they’re proving to be adept at racing, as well.
Connor improved off his eighth-place finish in week one to finish fourth last week, moving him up three spots to fifth in the points standings, just 24 points behind co-leaders Chandler Smith and Joshua Hicks. Between driving at AMS and Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, he’s first in Georgia in the INEX points standings and 14th in the nation.
“I feel I’m doing OK,” Connor Younginer said. “I’m going to do a lot better once I get more experience.”
Compared to other young driving families, the Younginers are just catching up. The Bandits and Outlaws divisions are filled with young drivers who raced go-karts and quarter midgets at as young as 5 years old — the racing equivalent of T-ball.
The Younginers skipped those steps, not out of confidence, but ignorance.
“People don’t know how to get into [racing],” Mark Younginer said. “They don’t know where to start.”
So Mark Younginer got things started with his first trade. In high school, he saw his first Legends car at a motorcycle shop in Forest Park he used to frequent with friends. Curiosity got the best of him and his 1996 Ford Mustang, which he traded to get a Legends car.
Once on the track, Mark Younginer was hooked, enough to get Connor a Bandolero and eventually trade his own Legends car to give Connor a back-up Bandolero.
From the beginning, there was no limit to Connor’s enthusiasm, but there was a limit to his speed. It confounded the Younginers throughout Connor’s first season in Thursday Thunder. His lap times were coming in at 20 seconds, while the top drivers were around 16.9 to 17 seconds.
“I thought it’d be easy,” Connor Younginer said.
The question was simple — was the problem Connor’s driving or Connor’s car?
Doug Coffey answered that for the Younginers. Mark Younginer sought out the McDonough native and dad to Alex Coffey, who drives in the Young Lions division, to look at the set up on Connor’s car. Coffey tinkered and tweaked, and Connor’s times suddenly dropped.
“He is running the fastest he’s even run,” Mark Younginer said.
But that worried Sharon Younginer. Now, Connor might be considered a contender. Maybe even a threat. She wondered whether all those boys (and girls) who threw the football with Connor when he was back in the pack would still play catch now that he’d caught up to them.
“We were worried once he got competitive that you’d make enemies. But it was the opposite,” Sharon Younginer said. “They start trash-talking with each other, but it’s in fun. It’s awesome and very surprising.”
The Younginers aren’t surprised by the racing whirlwind anymore. If anything, they’re wiser. Indeed, young Ryan Younginer won’t have to catch up to fellow drivers when he joins Thursday Thunder in a few years.
He’s already racing go-karts.