Photo by Derrick Mahone
Madeline Crane finished runner-up last season in the Outlaws division at Thursday Thunder. The 14-year-old Meansville native has 59 top-five finishes in 82 starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
This year on the Thunder Ring is not exactly what Madeline Crane was expecting.
After coming off of a 2011 Thursday Thunder season that saw her grab one checkered flag, and eight top-five finishes on her way to achieving runner-up status in the Outlaws division points standings, “Mad Maddie,” as she is called, was looking to pick up this season where she left off.
But this year, now racing in the Young Lions division, it seems her competition is not willing to cooperate with her plan.
“This year has just been tough,” Crane said. “I’ve never been more frustrated in my life. Everyone’s close in time and we’re all determined to win. I think this is the toughest group out here.”
During the first six weeks, only Riley Thornton (weeks one and four) and Evan Bell (weeks two and three) have taken home checkered flags more than once.
Meanwhile, Crane has just three top-five finishes — including her season best third place finish during Thursday Thunder’s special 4th of July segment. She missed out on a chance to build on her momentum when last Thursday’s races were canceled due to inclement weather.
But despite what her nickname may suggest, Crane said she isn’t mad about the sluggish start — just motivated.
“After that third place finish, I feel like I’m picking up fast now,” she said.
And because the Young Lions drivers are so evenly matched, Crane said even a lower placed finish doesn’t necessarily equate to a bad race.
“Everybody is really close in time no matter the place,” she said. “We’re all just out there trying to push each other to get better, and that has me just so determined to go out there and get better each race.”
And with the way other drivers are developing, Crane knows that any win won’t be an easy one.
Both Thornton and Bell, along with Will Fagan, picked up their first ever Thursday Thunder victories this season. While drivers like Joey Padgett who won in week six and is currently ranked second in the INEX points standings is surging.
So is Payton Ryan, having strung together several top five finishes in his first season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He currently sits at No. 6 in the INEX standings.
Crane isn’t letting the solid competition intimidate her, however. She said that as long as she keeps her focus and composure, she feels she still has time to make a push of her own.
“I’ve just got to learn not get frustrated,” she said. “Calm, cool and collected. That’s what I need to be out there.”
Crane will get a double-shot at improvement Thursday as every division that did not get to compete last week due to the weather will battle in double features racing. Only the Pro division will not race double features as they were able to hit the track before the rain came.
And although the rainout gave Crane a chance to hang out with her family and fellow drivers, she made it clear where she really wanted to be.
“I can’t wait to race again,” she said. “I eat, sleep and breathe racing.”