GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 9) -- The waiting game for one of the next generation Pro Stock cars continues for 10-year pro Mike Thomas as the NHRA circuit turns its attention to Gainesville Raceway and the 32nd annual Gatornationals. But despite the...
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 9) -- The waiting game for one of the next generation Pro Stock cars continues for 10-year pro Mike Thomas as the NHRA circuit turns its attention to Gainesville Raceway and the 32nd annual Gatornationals. But despite the extended delay for Thomas, which has been further exasperated by a preseason testing accident, the 48-year-old veteran from Knoxville, Tenn., remains very optimistic about his race program.
“We’ve already had some hurdles to clear,” Thomas said. “But my team has shown an amazing resiliency and has fought through the tough times as a group. I’m proud of my guys. Even though we’ve been knocking ourselves out to get the car situation figured out, our in-house engine program hasn’t suffered one bit. In fact, we continue to make progress in that area. Once we get all the pieces in place, there is no question we’ll be frontrunners again.”
Thomas was prepared for the well-chronicled switchover to new body styles for the 2001 season. He was one of the first drivers in the country to take delivery of a brand-new Pontiac Grand Am and was anxious to get the car sorted out in anticipation of the season opener in Pomona, Calif. But a few days before that event during a test session in Bradenton, Fla., the entire steering mechanism of Thomas’ new ride came apart during a full throttle run and he could only sit and watch as his car drifted over and crashed into the retaining wall.
“We immediately loaded the car up and returned it to the manufacturer,” Thomas said. “I certainly didn’t want to take any more chances. We now have another car on order from a different supplier, Don Ness, and we expect to take delivery before the Bristol (Tenn.) event in late April. He’s working as quick as he can. We’ll just have to wait our turn again.”
In the meantime Thomas will continue to drive a 1997 Chevrolet Camaro, which he bought from fellow driver Kurt Johnson five days before the season started. It’s the same car Johnson drove to six national event victories in the second half of the Y2K season.
“It’s a good car,” Thomas said. “We just didn’t have enough time to match it up with our stuff before the first two races. I believe we can successfully qualify for the next three races with this Camaro and there is no reason to think we can’t win some rounds and put ourselves in a position to win a race. We’ll just keep working hard until something good happens. Hopefully, we can find some success in Florida. The guy’s have certainly earned a break or two.”
Catch the action of the 32nd annual Gatornationals on ESPN and ESPN2. Highlights of all four qualifying rounds will air from 3-5 p.m. (ET), Saturday, March 17, on ESPN. The elimination rounds will be broadcast from 5-7 p.m. (ET), Sunday, March 18, on ESPN2.
- Rob Geiger