HAMPTON – Winning a race on Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Thunder Ring isn’t easy; it takes patience, well-timed aggression, consistency, and some luck to take the checkered flag first. That’s why the first win is a major accomplishment for every driver, but the truth is the grand majority don’t stand out as part of an historic moment.
Ashton Whitener does.
“It still feels great to this day,” Whitener said.
The Monticello native got her start in AMS Legends when her father happened to cross paths with Ken Ragan, who runs the program.
“My dad was wiring a building down here at the Legends office and Ken Ragan talked us into coming to race Bandoleros,” Whitener said. “I instantly fell in love with it.”
Racing at Atlanta was fun from the start, but running competitively isn’t easy.
“You have to do everything perfect at the ¼-mile tracks. If you do one thing wrong, you’re losing a lot of time,” Whitener said. “You have to focus in these cars. Any loss of focus costs you time.”
Beyond that, Whitener says entering the world of auto racing as a female comes with additional challenges.
“I feel like the girls have to work twice as hard just because competing with guys - they don’t like it,” Whitener said.
That’s why in 22 years of Thursday Thunder racing, Whitener’s first win stands out. This week marks one year since Whitener and two other female racers — Annabelle Mohwish and Audrie Ruark — took it to the boys in The Associates Group Young Lions, taking the top three spots at the checkered flag. It was the first time in Thursday Thunder history that female drivers finished in first, second, and third in a feature race.
“Having girls go 1-2-3 here and beating all the guys are a pretty big deal,” Whitener said. “Any kind of win here or anywhere is good. The feeling you get when a girl wins or you yourself win - and beat the guys - just feels so great.”
Whitener hasn’t let that big win go to her head; she’s constantly looking for ways to improve her skills on the track.
“I’m finally getting the hang of how to be smooth. Smooth is fast,” Whitener explained. “I still need to get the hang of passing cars and using my own line to get around them.”
Her efforts appear to be paying off. Whitener has consistently finished in the top-5 in the Young Lions races this year, and was just one position short of her second career victory last week.
As she continues to chase that next win, Whitener has some advice for any other girls looking to hit the track.
“I would tell them to always stay focused, don’t let anyone get in your head, and keep working because if you keep at it, you’ll get better,” Whitener said.
The Thursday Thunder Legends Series presented by Papa John's Pizza continues with its sixth night of racing Thursday. Grandstand tickets for the affordable, family-friendly racing action on June 27 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.