Thomas looking to impress in Houston

HOUSTON (March 21) -- No matter what a person does for a living, there is always a sentiment that one wants to impress his or her boss. In the case of 10-year veteran drag racer Mike Thomas, he has that opportunity every time the National Hot Rod...

HOUSTON (March 21) -- No matter what a person does for a living, there is always a sentiment that one wants to impress his or her boss. In the case of 10-year veteran drag racer Mike Thomas, he has that opportunity every time the National Hot Rod Association makes it's annual stop in Houston for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals presented by Pennzoil, which takes place this weekend at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown.

For his entire pro career, Thomas, a 48-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn., has had a successful association with the Houston-based Pennzoil-Quaker State Company. He first campaigned the Pennzoil Motor Fuel Oldsmobile Cutlass in the early 1990s, moved to a Gumout Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird in the middle part of the decade, and debuted the Pennzoil Motor Oil Firebird late in the 1990s. Looking forward, Thomas' soon-to-be unveiled 2001 Pontiac Grand Am will once again carry the familiar bright yellow Pennzoil oval on its body.

"Pennzoil has been a big part of my racing career," said Thomas, a 16-time winner on the NHRA circuit. "We have become family with all of the people from Pennzoil around the country and especially here in Houston. That makes this event a big race for us because we know there's a lot of company pride on the line. We give 100 percent effort at every race, but this one seems a little extra special because there's so much riding on the outcome."

Thomas certainly hasn't disappointed his backers, regularly blistering the Houston track, which is widely regarded as the best quarter-mile on the circuit. It's low-lying location -- Houston Raceway Park is just 11 feet above sea level -- yields high volumes of oxygen that translates to added horsepower on the racetrack.

"We make our own motors and they seem to love Houston Raceway Park," said Thomas, who's Finish Line Racing Engines accounted for a staggering 25 percent of all qualified fields just three years ago before he stopped leasing them out to other competitors. "We design our equipment for maximum horsepower so the more air they can gulp in the better they run. Obviously, a track at sea level provides us with a lot more air.

"I feel like we have something to prove here this weekend. I've been to the finals of this race (in 1998) but for all the rounds we've won here, we've never been to the Winner's Circle. I'd like to change that stat this time around."

Eight and a half hours of the 14th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil will air on ESPN and ESPN2. Highlights of the qualifying rounds will be broadcast from 7:30-9:30 p.m. (CST), Saturday, on ESPN2. Primetime elimination coverage begins at 3:30-5 p.m. (CST), Sunday, on ESPN, and continues from 5-8 p.m. (CST), Sunday, on ESPN2. A rebroadcast of the elimination rounds will air from 2-4 a.m. (CST), Monday, on ESPN2.

-Rob Geiger

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas