POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 5) -- The 1998 season marked a high point for Pennzoil Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas. He won his first national event, reached two final rounds, recorded 14 elimination-round victories, and finished a career-high sixth in the...
POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 5) -- The 1998 season marked a high point for Pennzoil Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas. He won his first national event, reached two final rounds, recorded 14 elimination-round victories, and finished a career-high sixth in the Winston championship points standings. To be sure, the 47-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn. seemed primed for bigger and better things in 1999.
But it was not to be. Thomas' racing fortunes suffered a reality check this year and the things that had effortlessly fallen into place only one year ago couldn't be forced into place this time around. The team was besieged by one setback after another. Still, despite the coming and going of several crewmen, the early-season departure of his crew chief and the first wreck of his racing career, Thomas somehow persevered.
Now, as the 22-race NHRA circuit enters its final event - the Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals Nov. 11-14 at Pomona Raceway - Thomas, remarkably still has a chance to salvage his season. He is just 27 points behind 10th place points-earner Greg Anderson and can catch and pass his friend for the coveted spot by lasting two more rounds than Anderson does on Race Day. (Each round equals 20 points.)
"To earn a spot in the top 10 would be a huge lift for this team," Thomas said of crossing drag racing's magical Magellan line. "Naturally, you always want to win the Winston championship or do better than you did the year before. That's not going to happen for us this year. But, considering all we've been through, a top 10 finish would be quite an accomplishment."
Thomas returned to championship form at the NHRA's last stop in Houston, reaching the semifinal round for the first time since mid-May in Atlanta. Thomas powered by No. 1 qualifier Bruce Allen in Round 1 and then blasted former Winston champ Jim Yates with a hole-shot win in the quarterfinals.
"If we can continue what we were doing in Houston when we get to Pomona we'll get that top 10 spot," Thomas said. "Rick (Hickman, crew chief) has the car in perfect shape and I really feel like my driving is back to form. Going to the semis in Houston really lifted this team's spirits. We didn't have much to get excited about before then.
"I've run great in Pomona in the past. I was the No. 2 qualifier and the No. 4 qualifier in the two races we ran there last year so I know the car loves the track. I'm just going to win this race and jump right back into a great frame of mind."