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Ryan Rackley, a 14-year-old from Valdosta is competing in the VP Racing Fuels Pro Division for the first time this season.

HAMPTON — Over its 22-year history, Thursday Thunder presented by Papa John’s has become known as a breeding ground for future stars of auto racing.

Several drivers currently running at the top level of NASCAR cut their teeth on Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Thunder Ring; the 2019 roster of Thursday Thunder competitors is full of young racers hoping they’ll be the next one to climb to the top of the racing ladder.

Among them is Ryan Rackley, a 14-year-old from Valdosta who’s competing in the VP Racing Fuels Pro Division for the first time this season. In 2018 he scored three wins and the championship in The Associates Group Young Lions Division during Thursday Thunder and aims to have similar success in the series’ top division this season.

“I’m hoping to lead a lot of laps just to get experience and then hopefully come out with three to five wins in this series,” Rackley said. “That’d be really good experience for me.”

That’s not to say Rackley is counting his chickens before they hatch. The VP Racing Fuels Pro Division features Thursday Thunder’s most proven racers who put on the fastest and often most intense races each Thursday night.

“The competition is a lot more aggressive and they run consistently quick lap times,” Rackley said. “I know they’re going to race me hard and I’m going to learn a lot.”

Rackley says he’s going to school every time he gets behind the wheel of a car, and he’s learned important lessons in his Legends racer.

“I’ve learned how to have great car control because the Legends cars have a lot of horsepower for a little car and off the corners they get very loose,” Rackley said. “You have to manage that in these cars while also keeping the momentum up and not losing speed.”

As Rackley has jumped into other cars to compete, including a late model crew chiefed by former NASCAR racer David Reutimann, he says those fundamental lessons learned on the Thunder Ring have kept him on track.

“I’ve only run two races in a late model, and in one of my first practice sessions I was battling a loose car,” Rackley recalled. “If I hadn’t driven a Legends car in the past, I would have hit the wall with that late model.”

Meanwhile Rackley’s still seizing opportunities on Atlanta Motor Speedway’s 1/4-mile — he earned his first VP Racing Fuels Pro Division victory in the second race of the 2019 season — and appreciating what he’s gained from racing on the Thunder Ring.

“It’s a good experience and people in the garage are friendly,” Rackley said of Thursday Thunder. “Whether you’re in the stands or the garage you’re taken care of.”

The Thursday Thunder Legends Series presented by Papa John’s continues with its fourth night of racing this Thursday. Grandstand tickets for the affordable, family-friendly racing action on Thursday, June 20, 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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