ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 15) -- Drag racing fans got a sneak peek at Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas' new car at the last NHRA race in Atlanta. But the official unveiling of his stunning new Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird comes this week in...
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 15) -- Drag racing fans got a sneak peek at Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas' new car at the last NHRA race in Atlanta. But the official unveiling of his stunning new Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird comes this week in conjunction with the start of the 31st annual Matco Tools Spring SuperNationals presented by Racing Champions, his title sponsor's premiere race.
The car is the same 1999 Jerry Bickel model that Thomas crashed earlier this year in a rare testing accident. Since that mishap, Bickel totally rebuilt the car to 2000 specifications and the sleek design turned plenty of heads as Thomas took it through the NHRA's strict tech procedures at Atlanta Dragway. The car, which Bickel described as "the newest generation of Firebird bodies," passed with flying colors and was immediately entered into competition.
While Thomas struggled through four qualifying passes that left him outside the Atlanta field, he was still very optimistic about the car's potential. "It was a real crush just to get the car to Atlanta in time for the race," said Thomas, a 47-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn. "Since the wreck we had borrowed a couple of different cars so that we could continue racing. Jerry finally had my car ready to go right after Richmond so we hustled over to get it. We had plans to test the car Wednesday in St. Louis (near Bickel's shop) but it rained and we ran out of time. We ended up going into Atlanta with an unproven car.
"It caught up to us. All of the typical new car problems you can have surfaced at some point over the weekend. As it turns out, this new Matco Tools car is so aerodynamic, especially down-track, that we underestimated what it could do. Plus, we had some electrical problems. The good news is that we took it back to Jerry's shop after Atlanta and totally retooled and rewired the entire car. Now it's perfect from top to bottom.
"This is a huge race for us. The folks at Matco Tools have shown a lot of faith in us and it's my turn to reward them for staying with us. I'd love to put the Matco Tools car in the Winner's Circle of the Matco Tools race right here in the media capital of the world. It would be a great day for Matco Tools and a huge boost for our team.
"I know we have all the pieces of a championship team. We have the best car and the best motors in the business. Now it's time for my crew and me to put everything together and start winning some races again."
Despite his bumpy ride this season that's seen him drive five different cars in seven races, Thomas is currently 20th in the Winston championship points standings with 16 races remaining on the schedule.
Television coverage of this race begins with qualifying highlights from 7-9 p.m. (ET), Saturday, on ESPN2. Same-day coverage of Sunday's elimination rounds will be broadcast from 9:30-11:30 p.m. (ET) with a rebroadcast at 3-4 a.m. (ET) on ESPN2.