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MAHONE: Who is the next NASCAR star to emerge from Thursday Thunder

Derrick Mahone

Derrick Mahone

There is a belief that if you can make it in Thursday Thunder’s “Thunder Ring”, then you should be able to cut it on the NASCAR circuit.

And that’s not some cheap PR slogan .

The proof is on the NASCAR circuit with several former Thursday Thunder alumni now racing for a profession. Atlanta Motor Speedway officials estimate that about 60 or so former drivers at its grassroots racing series got their big start while competing in the 10-week racing series.

The list of current NASCAR drivers with Thursday Thunder ties include Joey Logano, Chase Elliot, Reed Sorenson and David Ragan to name a few.

Logano and Elliott are two of the hottest drivers in their series. Logano is currently in seventh place in the Sprint Cup Series standings, and has secured a spot in the Chase with two wins this season. He is one of only three drivers with at least two wins this season.

Elliott has two wins on the Nationwide series and is a strong candidate for the circuit’s rookie of the year honors.

The folks at Atlanta Motor Speedway have something to beat their chest about. Each week when the professionals race, there is a big connection to the worn track in Hampton.

And the drivers wear their Thursday Thunder alumni patches with pride.

“The best advice I’d give to a legend car driver is to keep digging, keep working hard,” Sorenson said.

They acknowledge that moving up the NASCAR circuit gets expensive, but chasing the dream is worth the cost.

“If you continue to move on, it gets more expensive and it gets harder,” Sorenson said. “But you have to have fun at the same time.”

And fun is what Thursday Thunder is all about, in addition to being competitive.

There are a few younger drivers at Thursday Thunder that have that NASCAR potential. Second-year driver Chandler Smith has won two straight Bandits championships while taking the checkered flag in 13 of his 20 career races. Locally, Connor Younginer is poised for a breakout year in his third year of competition.

Christopher Clanton has some good racing DNA while Riley Thornton also grew up around the sport. That’s just a few of the talented aspiring drivers that entertain the crowds on Thursday evenings during the summer.

If you are looking for the next Danica Patrick, there are some talented female drivers on the track at Thursday Thunder.

Taylor Jorgensen just graduated from high school and wants to give professional racing a shot. There is Maddie Crane, who is also a gifted young driver.

And AMS officials are not shy about wanting to help those that have the desire to race professionally achieve that goal.

“We are looking forward to identifying our next NASCAR superstar,” AMS president Ed Clark said.

There are plenty that have the ability.

Derrick Mahone is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at dmahone@news-daily.com. On Twitter? Follow him @DerrickMahone_