PHOENIX (Feb. 9) -- The biggest reward in the cutthroat world of NHRA Pro Stock competition, short of winning the Winston championship, is to compete against the best drivers in the world with your own handmade engines under the hood. Now entering...
PHOENIX (Feb. 9) -- The biggest reward in the cutthroat world of NHRA Pro Stock competition, short of winning the Winston championship, is to compete against the best drivers in the world with your own handmade engines under the hood. Now entering his fourth year of being powered down the track by his own Finish Line Racing Engines, 10-year veteran Mike Thomas knows that exhilarating feeling better than most.
Just three seasons ago when Thomas was leasing several of his award-winning Finish Line Racing Engines to fellow competitors, the engines proved to be so reliable and quick that an astonishing 25 percent of all qualified fields were made up by Thomas' customers. It's a mark that is unsurpassed in the modern day history of the 30-year-old class.
After that stunning season, Thomas, a 16-time winner on the circuit, closed ranks and began a concerted run at the Winston championship. To be sure, there has been some bumps along the way, but as the 2001 season moves to Firebird International Raceway for next weekend's 17th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals presented by Pennzoil, Thomas is brimming with confidence brought on by the knowledge that his motors have never been stronger.
"Rick and Jody Hickman (crewmen and engine builders for Team Thomas) came across something in the off-season that got us all excited," Thomas said. "Through hundreds of hours of work and careful manipulation of the inner workings of our engines, they found an enormous amount of horsepower. It's certainly more than we've ever produced before.
"The gains they made were pretty significant and we started to think that maybe our dyno was giving us false information. But after the Pomona race a few days ago we went to a friend's shop and hooked them up to his equipment to see if the numbers were real. They were dead on. It was a huge boost for all of us.
"It's quite a feeling to know we have the horsepower. Now we just need to get our car straightened out and we'll be on our way. We're very bullish on the future."
While he waits for his new Pontiac Grand Am to roll off the assembly line, Thomas, a 48-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn., will continue to drive Kurt Johnson's old Chevrolet Camaro. It's the same car that Johnson drove to six second-half wins last year.
Several hours of the 17th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2. Qualifying highlights will be shown from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. (ET), Saturday, on ESPN2. The elimination rounds will be broadcast from 2-3 p.m. (ET), Sunday, on ESPN, with additional coverage airing from 6-8 p.m. (ET), Sunday, on ESPN2.