Photo by Derrick Mahone
Ed Clark (left) and Skip Nichols talk during the autograph session of Thursday Thunder before their featured Masters division race. Nichols won with Clark finishing second.
HAMPTON - The legend of Skip Nichols continues to grow at Thursday Thunder.
With his win on Thursday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Albany native won seventh Thursday Thunder title, the most by another other driver in the 16-yar history of the grassroots racing series. Nichols captured the Masters division title by holding off AMS president and general manager Ed Clark in the featured race.
Just before heading to victory lane to meet with his family, Nichols did a crowd-pleasing spinout that drew a thunderous applaud.
“It just gets better with each win,” said a smiling Nichols in the garage. “This means that much more as I continue to race. I just want to run a clean race and give the crowd something to take back home.”
And he did.
Nichols entered the feature race four points ahead of Tina Johnson for the division title. After taking the lead on the third lap, he would hold the entire race for the win. Clark gave chance, but Nichols was much face on the front stretch of the quarter-mile track.
Clark would finish second in the race and Johnson finished third, but placed second overall in the points standing in the final race of the 10-week season.
“Ed was there the entire race,” Nichols said. “I had to stay on the wheel the whole race. In turns three and four, he was there because I let him come up on me. I was a little better in turns one and two.”
This marked the first time in three seasons that Clark has not won at least won race during the series. He was hoping to get the win to dedicate it to at track employee, who is battling an illness.
“Yes, it is disappointing,” Clark said. “I was there, but couldn’t overtake him. It was a good race for Skip, and I think we gave the fans what they wanted to see.”
Johnson also called it disappointing, but congratulated Nichols on his historic win. She was trying to become one of a few female drivers that has won a division title in the racing series.
“I went into this race really, really nervous because I had to start from the outside,” Johnson said. “Skip is so good. I went into this race with the mindset that I have accomplished a lot this season. I’ve had a lot of fun.”
This was sort of a breakout season for Johnson in her three seasons in the Masters division. She got two wins, which is the most she has had in the division since moving into it in 2010. The three wins is also the most she has had since 2004 when she raced in the Outlaws division.
“I have a lot to be pleased with this season,” Johnson said. “I’m pleased, and look forward to next season.”
Nichols picked up his fifth win of the season, and his 49th during his racing career in the series. He is Thursday Thunder’s all-time winningest driver, and now holds the title for most division wins. Entering the race, he was tied with Doug Stevens for career title championships with six.
All of Stevens came in a Legends car while one of Nichols titles was in the Roadster division.
“I feel real good about where I’m at in my racing career,” Nichols said. “I was able to put the car in the trailer in one piece, which is alway good. We do this as a big family outing.”
And next season it will grow as his grandson, Wilder Etheredge, will begin racing. Two weeks ago, Nichols presented Etheredge with his first Bandolero car.
“I’m going to work with him this winter to get him ready for next season,” Nichols said. “It is going to be great having him on the track.I still enjoy getting in and out of this car, although it takes me a little longer now than it used to. This Atlanta Motor Speedway is awesome, and there is no better racing out here than this Thursday Thunder at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
While Nichols added to his winning resume, it was also a night of first for some drivers.
Christopher Clanton, the son of former NASCAR driver Joey Clanton, earned his first career Thursday Thunder win by holding off Joshua Hicks in the featured race. Although Ashton Winger, the points division leader, was a causalty of a caution flag, he was still able to hold on to the division championship.
Locust Grove native Tristan Meredith claimed a first win in the series by winning the Beginner Bandits feature.