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Mason Maggio racing around Atlanta Motor Speedway.

HAMPTON – Standing beside his No. 64 Bandolero racer inside one of the garages at Atlanta Motor Speedway, 14-year-old Mason Maggio is keenly aware of the significance of where he stands.

“It’s interesting to be in the garage area where the NASCAR guys go,” Maggio said. “The experience is just so cool here and that’s why we keep coming back.”

For Maggio, coming back isn’t as simple as it sounds. Home for him is Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. — just 80 miles north of Miami — which means getting to a race at AMS is no small task.

“When we drive it’s seven to eight hours if we’re lucky and don’t run into traffic,” Maggio explained, but to him that isn’t the hard part of racing in Thursday Thunder presented by Papa John’s; waiting a week for the next race is.

“I’d like to be here more than anywhere else in the world. I like to be here, work in the shop and learn something about the cars,” Maggio said. “The waits are long, but it’s worth it.”

When the wait ends and Maggio hits the track, he embraces the challenges presented by the tricky ¼-mile Thunder Ring.

“You cannot underestimate it. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean you’re going to easily understand it,” Maggio said. “It took me quite a bit of time to just run competitively, and during Thursday Thunder it gets extremely competitive with guys coming from all around the country.

“They say if you can conquer this ¼-mile you can drive just about anywhere.”

For now, Maggio’s trying to do that in the Racing Radios Outlaws Bandolero division. Next year, Maggio plans to hop into a Legends car and compete in The Associates Group Young Lions division.

“Some of the greatest drivers that we see on TV today started in Legends cars,” Maggio points out. “This is where we’re going to learn big time in the Legends car.”

Like many others in Atlanta Motor Speedway’s garages, Maggio hopes to one day reach those same heights, and he’s quick to acknowledge none of it would be possible without his family’s support.

“Family plays a big role because racing is time consuming and does take a lot of your time and money in order to do this and my parents are willing to make that sacrifice,” Maggio said. “I can’t thank them enough.”

Part of that commitment is consistently making the more than 550-mile trek from south Florida to Atlanta Motor Speedway to race. For Maggio, the destination and what it provides is well worth the journey.

“It’s done so much for my progression as a racecar driver,” Maggio said of his time in Thursday Thunder. “I feel like it’s made me mature as a driver and even as a person mentally and physically. It’s taught me so much more than I knew coming in.”

This week the dreaded wait between races will be much shorter for Maggio, with two rounds of Thursday Thunder presented by Papa John's Pizza on back-to-back nights.

Infield admission is available for spectators wishing to watch the action on Wednesday, July 10, and grandstand tickets for the affordable, family-friendly racing action on Thursday, July 11, cost just $5; children ages 5 and under are free.

For more information, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at 770-946-4211, 877-9-AMS-TIX or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.

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