Slate finishes second in Thursday Thunder opener

Rafe Slate drives his car down the backstretch during the opening lap of an off-season race held last month at Atlanta Motor Speedway. 

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard

justin@lakeoconeenews.us

 

The good news for Rafe Slate is he posted his third-straight top two finish in last week’s Thursday Thunder season opener.

The bad news for him is he finished second in all three of those races.

Slate, who competes in the Pro division of the U.S. Legends series, ran two “Furious Five” offseason races at Atlanta Motor Speedway on May 12 and finished second behind Jensen Jorgensen in both outings. AMS’s summer racing series, Thursday Thunder, began last week and Slate was again ahead of everyone except Jorgensen.

He could have finished much worse but Slate said he’s itching for a return to victory lane.

“I'm feeling pretty good,” Slate said about his performance last week. “I'm getting a little tired of finishing second. It's not a bad problem to have but I definitely would rather finish first.”

When Slate and his family, which owns the Solid Rock Performance Racing team and fields Slate’s No. 8 Vizitech USA car, arrived to AMS last week, they were told Slate and the other Pro division drivers would run uncut tires this summer.

Slate explained that uncut tires have “zero grip” compared to the tires he normally uses. Because of that, Slate’s car was not up to its usual performance during the race. His lap times were multiple tenths of a second off his usual marks.

 “We were kind of thrown for a loop on the tires,” Slate said. “We had to make a swing at the setup. I think we were a little bit off from where we needed to be because I was tight in the center of the corner the whole race. I wasn't too far off but it was far enough that I wasn't going to be able to catch [Jorgensen] and he was just pulling away from me.”

The new tire requirements are brand-new for the Pro series, according to Slate. Drivers must use tires from a collection housed at AMS. Slate said the rules were implemented to help make the races more exciting.

It did not help matters for Slate that Jorgensen’s sister, Taylor, gave him a tough challenge throughout the race.

“It was more eventful than the offseason races because I was being pushed by Taylor Jorgensen the whole time,” Slate said. “She was right on my bumper. She didn't run me over or do anything so I'm really appreciative of that. She raced me really clean. It was definitely a really difficult race.”

Another new Thursday Thunder rule for Pro series drivers was installed last week. Now, drivers can choose their starting position based upon how they qualify. The person with the fastest qualifying time chooses his starting position first, then the second-fastest and so on.

The caveat of the rule is that drivers receive one bonus point for each position they pick up during the race. If a driver were to start last in the field, which normally consists of about eight drivers, he or she could potentially finish with more points than the winner if they advance several positions.

Much like the tire conditions, the starting position change was also created to make the racing more exciting.

“I don't think it's going to be as big of a deal as people think,” Slate said. “I definitely think it's going to make points a little funky. It's definitely interesting from a fan's point of view. It's pretty stressful from my point of view. But you've got to make (the racing) pretty good for the fans. I can see how this would be more interesting to watch.”

No matter where he starts, Slate is confident in his chances of putting together a second consecutive strong effort in the Thursday Thunder series. Last year, he led the Semi-Pro division for a few weeks before ultimately finishing second.

Slate said he thinks his setup needs only a slight adjustment to catch up with Jorgensen, who won the pole last week and led every lap.

“We're getting really close,” Slate said. “In qualifying, I was .001 off of the pole time. ... We're definitely getting a lot closer than we have been. We still have some time to pick up.”

Legends drivers can compete around the country and accrue points that count toward a national championship for their respective divisions.

Entering this week, Slate was first among the nation’s Pro series drivers after wins earlier this year at AMS, Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele and Sunny South Raceway in Alabama.

He wants the national championship. It would be more significant for Slate, who started his racing career at AMS, to win the Thursday Thunder title, though, and he said he is sure he can win the championship when the series concludes in early August.

“I'm feeling pretty confident,” he said. “I think I'm still on top of Pro national points but Thursday Thunder is our main priority. It would mean a lot more than a national championship to me, just because, with the national championship, you can win by running a lot of races in other places. Thursday Thunder is a priority and I feel pretty confident I can win that championship.”

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