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Fagan’s early birthday gift — a win at AMS

Photo By Gabriel Stovall
 Racing veteran Terry Mathis (left) celebrates his grandson Will Fagan’s first Thursday Thunder victory. “He’s the only reason why I’m here,” said Mathis of Fagan.

Photo By Gabriel Stovall Racing veteran Terry Mathis (left) celebrates his grandson Will Fagan’s first Thursday Thunder victory. “He’s the only reason why I’m here,” said Mathis of Fagan.

Terry Mathis has been racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway for 14 years.

But this past Thursday was one of those rare nights where the 2011 Masters division champion could have put away his No. 71 Legends car and not have missed anything.

That’s because he would have been content celebrating his grandson Will Fagan’s first-ever Thursday Thunder win in the Young Lion’s division.

“I don’t even have to race tonight,” Mathis said. “I’m just happy that Will won tonight. He’s really the only reason why I’m out here every week.”

Mathis would finish fourth in his Masters division race moments later. But Thursday belonged to his grandson.

Fagan, who turns 15 on Tuesday, picked up an early birthday present wrapped in a checkered flag as he overcame numerous caution periods to cruise to a fairly easy victory in a race where he led every lap.

Good thing he likes getting position on restarts.

“Doing good on the restarts is something I work on and it was key for me tonight since there were so many cautions out there,” Fagan said. “Tonight I just tried to work on staying at the bottom, hitting those restarts hard and trying to race each lap as consistently as I could.”

Before tonight’s win, Fagan raced close in the first four weeks of the season, finishing with several second and third place finishes.

Those close contests gave him hope that it wouldn’t be long before he would cross the finish line first. But now after the win, it’s his confidence that is racing.

“It was just awesome,” said Fagan, a native of Cumming along with Mathis. “There’s just so much that goes into trying to win. But it’s awesome to pick up this first one. I think it can be a stepping stone for me from here on out.”

Although Fagan’s Thursday Thunder experience is limited — this is just his second year racing in the series — he has been competing on a track since he was seven. He has seen some success including recent wins in the Off-Season Legends Racing Series at AMS.

Like most young racers, Fagan is a huge NASCAR fan, but unlike many young racers, he doesn’t have a favorite driver. Instead he likes to take from each driver’s unique styles and try to add it to flavor his own.

“It’s tough to pick a favorite NASCAR driver because they all have their different ways,” he said.

Fagan is sure of what type of driver he is, however.

“I stay calm,” he said. “I race clean. A lot of people will come at you any kind of way, but I’ll race you like you race me.”

One person he’s never raced is Mathis. But based on what he’s seeing from Fagan, Mathis perhaps may not want to risk challenging his grandson.

“If we raced now, he would beat me,” Mathis said. “But he couldn’t take all the credit for that. He’s got a good set up man. I work on his car.”

Fagan and Mathis are the only ones in the family who have picked up the racing gene. Between Thursdays at AMS and Tuesday races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the duo doesn’t have much spare time for anything else — which is perfect for Mathis.

“You know a lot of people get to fish with their grandkids, but not a lot of grandparents get to race with their grandkids,” Mathis said.

For the past 26 years, Mathis spends his days as a grading contractor which he calls a very stressful career. So for him, racing is part-quality time and part-therapeutic. That’s why he loves the sport so much.

“At work, I’ve got 40 different problems pulling me in all directions, but at night when I race, the only problem I have is the car in front of me,” he said. “Racing is how I get away from everything. I don’t fish, I don’t hunt. I race with my grandson. That’s my outlet.”