For more than 72 hours, Dawsonville, Georgia, was the center of the world as the Atlanta Motorsports Park hosted the INEX Legend Cars Road Course World Finals. Ninety-five drivers representing eight countries converged on the track over the weekend of Nov. 1-3 to compete in four divisions, according to INEX Public Relations Coordinator Laila Razymer.
“Eight countries, U.S., Finland, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Italy, Greece and Germany competing in four divisions,” Razymer said. “We’ve got 95 Legend cars competing in four divisions. Our Young Lions, which is kids from 12-15; Semi-pro, 15 and up, which is a more skill-based division; Pro, 15 and up, most elite skill; and Masters, which is 40 and over.”
Having traveled the farthest of all the drivers present for the race, Australian driver Jason Goulding was unique in the field due to the fact that the world championship was his one and only race of the season. Having won his spot this year via a lottery drawing, Goulding passed on racing in 2019 to ensure he could make the trip for what he considered a dream come true opportunity.
“Being able to race in America has always been a dream,” Goulding said. “America is where legend cars live and breathe, it’s where you want to race.”
The three-day event started with an open practice session on Friday, Nov. 1, giving the drivers the opportunity to learn the 16 turns of the 2-mile AMP course. Saturday featured qualifying runs in all four divisions followed by heat races to determine the starting line-up for Sunday’s championship race.
“They started out the day yesterday, they qualified and based on qualifying they get so many points. Then from qualifying we create a heat race. They run a heat race and they get points from that. Those combined points created the line-up for today,” Razymer said. “So, it’s a show over the couple of days and you have to be consistent to start in the top of the field.”
Legends cars are 5/8 scale replicas of classic cars from the 1930’s and 40’s. With the exception of the body style of the car (standard coupe, 34 coupe or sedan), the cars are mechanically identical. They are the most mass-produced racing car in the world and were designed to provide a lower cost racing experience available to a wide range of the public.
Because the cars are built to a standard specification and there can be no outside work done on the engines the Legend Series produces a more skill-based style and has become the starting spot for drivers looking to break into the upper echelon of racing. Several NASCAR drivers, including Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kyle and Kurt Busch all got their start in legend cars.
“That’s one thing that a lot of these drivers will tell you,” Razymer said. “This is where you build your foundation for all of your racing, this is where you learn your race-craft because these are the hardest cars to drive.”
Canton native Dawson Fletcher, 16, serves as a perfect example of the career path most drivers hope to follow in the racing world. He started racing at the age of five after being introduced to the sport by his father.
Driving quarter midgets (essentially a souped-up go-kart with a roll cage), Fletcher won 9 championships before moving into legend cars at the age of 12. His success continued in the Legend Series as he went on to win three more championships, including two in the Pro division.
Now in his rookie season as a Pro Late Model driver, Fletcher has quickly established himself at the next level becoming the youngest drive in division history to win a NASCAR sanctioned championship by capturing the Pro Late Model title at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida.
“The goal is NASCAR but, of course, if there’s an opportunity somewhere else I’m going to take it — to be able to have a full-time job in racing is my end goal,” Fletcher said. “In a perfect world it would be NASCAR but we’re really just out here trying to get somewhere in the racing world.”
Hoping to follow in his footsteps was one of the youngest drivers on the circuit, ten-year-old Baylor O’Neil. At an early age Baylor announced to his family that he was going to race in NASCAR just like his favorite driver, Kyle Busch. A proclamation greeted with some skepticism from his family according to mom Tiffany O’Neil.
“We were like, sure you will dude,” Tiffany said. “But he started watching legend and bandolero races on YouTube and said, “I want to do this,” so his dad and him visited a track last summer. When they came back his dad said, “we are doing this,” and that’s how he got his start.”
Racing the white number 99 car with the grey racing stripe “that helps him go really fast,” Baylor competed in 10 races during the 2019 season, picking up three wins along the way.
As he looked out over the twisting length of the AMP track, mentally preparing for his first road course of the season, Baylor was a strange mix of youthful exuberance and serious competitor but his summary of what he loved most about his new sport was all ten years old yet captured the fundamental essence of the sport.
“I like getting to go really fast,” O’Neil said.