Season ends strong for Thomas POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 14) -- A year blighted by a disagreeable new car, a change in crew chiefs, a loss of title sponsorship, and a freakish accident came to end for Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas in the opening ...
Season ends strong for Thomas
POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 14) -- A year blighted by a disagreeable new car, a change in crew chiefs, a loss of title sponsorship, and a freakish accident came to end for Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas in the opening round of the Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.
Thomas squared off against Richie "The Kid" Stevens in Round 1 and had a sizable lead on the young driver until his Pontiac Firebird unexpectedly veered to the right and came within inches of the retaining wall. The near-hit forced Thomas to lift off the accelerator and he could only watch as Stevens took a shaky 7.37-second win.
"The car got extremely loose in third gear," Thomas said. "I'm not sure why. I was two car lengths ahead of him at that point and I knew a win in that round would put me in the top 10 in the points standings so I drove it as far as I could. But it just wasn't meant to be. If I had gone any more I would have been into the wall. I had to lift.
"Nothing is more frustrating then not completing a lap, especially under these circumstances. If you get all the way down at least you have a chance to win. I didn't even get that this time. It's hard not to be disappointed. Richie was in trouble that lap and he was there for the taking, but we couldn't take advantage."
Despite the many hurdles he had to clear over the course of the season, the 47-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn. still completed the year on a strong note, coming within five points of a top 10 finish. Thomas accumulated 790 points and takes the No. 11 position.
Optimism is high for Mike Thomas Racing. Thomas will enter the 2000 season with a yet-to-be-named new financial backer since his former sponsor Pennzoil has elected to not support any professional teams next season. Thomas will also take delivery of a new car in the off season and he has secured the services of IHRA championship tuner Rick Hickman and clutch tech Gary Rost for next year. Hickman and Rost joined Mike Thomas Racing at mid-season and helped turn the team's season around.
"We had a career year in '98," Thomas said. "We finished sixth in the points and got our first win. We all expected this year to be even better. But it didn't happen the way we hoped it would and now all we can do is gear up for next season. We make our own power over here and I know we'll be contending for the championship again very soon. I wish we could start things up right now. I'm ready to start fresh."