Atlanta; Mike Thomas vows to get more from new car

ATLANTA (May 8) -- The breakneck pace Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas was forced to put his team under between back-to-back races in Richmond, Va., and Atlanta, finally caught up to the 47-year-old pro from Knoxville, Tenn., when he failed to...

ATLANTA (May 8) -- The breakneck pace Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas was forced to put his team under between back-to-back races in Richmond, Va., and Atlanta, finally caught up to the 47-year-old pro from Knoxville, Tenn., when he failed to qualify for the 20th annual Advance Auto Parts NHRA Southern Nationals. It was a disappointing way to end a weekend in which he debuted a stunning new Matco Tools paint scheme.

While the results were discouraging, they weren’t entirely unexpected. Thomas wrecked his primary car during a testing accident in late March and was forced to use a borrowed car for the national events in Las Vegas, Houston, and Richmond. Despite the inconvenience, ho successfully qualified for two of the events.

Meanwhile, his No. 1 car was being retooled and rebuilt to 2000 specifications by noted car builder Jerry Bickel. While at Bickel’s shop, the decision was made to paint the car to the new Matco Tools design, which moved up the original date of unveiling the car by one race.

As soon as the race was over in Richmond, the entire team traveled to St. Louis to pick up the new car. The plan was for Bickel to accompany the group to Gateway International Raceway in St. Louis for a full day of testing to work out any potential problems. But rain cancelled those ideas and the team had to take an untested car to Atlanta and enter the race with zero data.

“We tried everything we could to get this car in the show but there were too many unseen problems,” Thomas said. “We had the power and I know the car is going to be great, but we have to get her just right and we ran out of laps. It’s tough to qualify a car when you’re basically making test laps.

“The laps we made during qualifying looked good on the computer. I shifted at the right points and the engine and clutch matched up well. There was just something with the chassis bogging us down. I would get to the other end and the cockpit was full of smoke. I believe this new car is so aerodynamic it was pushing the body down on the tires and slowing us down by friction. Believe me, this a good problem to have because we can fix it.

“I immediately made the decision to stay in Atlanta and test this car for however long it takes to get it right. Jerry’s staying here with us, which will really help. He has a lot invested in this new car as well and we all want to see it do well. I especially want to be a front-runner by the next race. Matco Tools has come on board with us for a special engagement and I want to bring those guys a win. Doing it in Englishtown at their title race would be the ultimate.”

The NHRA tour takes a weekend off before attacking Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in New Jersey May 18-21.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas