Mike Thomas hopes marathon test will help at Gainesville

GAINESVILLE, Florida (March 10) -- Pro Stock drag racer Mike Thomas isn't satisfied with the performance of his sleek Matco Tools-sponsored Pontiac Firebird. So he and his crew left the NHRA's last stop in Phoenix and headed straight to the East...

GAINESVILLE, Florida (March 10) -- Pro Stock drag racer Mike Thomas isn't satisfied with the performance of his sleek Matco Tools-sponsored Pontiac Firebird. So he and his crew left the NHRA's last stop in Phoenix and headed straight to the East Coast to test some new theories and return their car to championship contention.

Ten days and two race tracks later, the tired but determined team has finally logged enough laps in both of its cars that they feel fully prepared to make a run at the Pro Stock title of the 31st annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. The race begins next Thursday, March 16, and continues through Sunday.

"Normally, when we have a couple of weekends off, you get to relax a little bit and spend some time with your family," said Thomas, a 47-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn. "After the problems we've had at the first two races, none of us could even sleep, let alone relax. We knew what had to be done.

"As quickly as the transporter could get to this side of the country, we all got together in Darlington (S.C.) and started working on both our primary and our secondary car, which is the one we ran last year. The weather wasn't cooperating in Darlington so we moved to Rockingham (N.C.) and worked until we had completely solved all of our problems."

After back-to-back DNQs at the first two races of the season, Thomas has fallen to 20th place in the Winston points standings. However, a win in Gainesville could lift him as high as second place, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by his team.

"Certainly, we've used up some of the margin of error a team needs to get through a year," Thomas said. "But we're still ready to fight for the championship. We were hurt in the first two races by parts failure and lack of data with our new car. It's not something we're going to beat ourselves up over. We'll just move forward from here and try to win some races. I know we have all the ingredients it takes to contend."

Qualifying highlights of the 31st annual Gatornationals will be broadcast at 8 p.m. (ET) Saturday on ESPN2. Same-day coverage of the elimination action will start at 5 p.m. (ET) Sunday on ESPN2.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas