CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

February 17, 2013

MOTORSPORTS: Good Hope grad Thomas signs on with thriving sprint car team

By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times

— Once Kevin Thomas Jr. hits the track, the rising sprint car driver only knows two speeds — fast and faster than everyone else.

The Good Hope graduate’s unquenchable thirst for success first reared its head when he began racing BMX bikes at the age of eight, and it’s still alive and well 13 years later as the speedster prepares to join RW Motorsports for the upcoming United States Auto Club (USAC) season.

Thomas will take over the No. 17 sprint car for one of the most thriving teams in the country when the USAC campaign begins Feb. 21-23 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.

“My goal and my expectation for myself is to go down there, win all three races and go home,” he said. “That’s just the way I think every race I go to. I’m going to walk out there knowing I gave it 110 percent, go to the next track and do the same thing.”

Thomas’ latest and greatest opportunity shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed his racing career. The former Raider garnered the United Mini Sprint Association’s Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Driver honors in 2005 after finishing seventh in the series standings. He jumped up to second the following year and retained his Most Improved Driver status.

Thomas spent the 2007 and 2008 seasons in the Midwest Sprint Car Series, where he finished sixth and fourth, respectively. Two weeks after graduating from Good Hope in 2009, he made the 500-mile trek north to Brownsburg, Ind., where he still resides today. Thomas’ shop is right across the street from three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart’s sprint car headquarters.

“Whenever you’re running up front against the caliber of people we’re racing with, you’ve done something,” Thomas said. “I think these are some of the best drivers in the world.”

The racing life hasn’t always been as hunky dory for Thomas as it is these days. There were nights shortly after he moved to Indiana where poor performances on the track caused him to question whether he wanted to keep chasing his dream.

Now that Thomas has signed on with RW Motorsports, he’s glad he never gave up.

“We pulled through, and great things happened,” he said. “It’s just a good feeling to know when you walk in the shop, you have the best team in the country.”

Just one year ago, Thomas was starting his rookie season on the USAC circuit as a driver and owner of an extremely youthful two-car team. Despite the obvious struggles associated with ownership, most notably in the financial department, Thomas was still extremely productive, finishing on the podium in 10 races and concluding the season in the top 10 in the point standings.

“We ran really good for just two kids,” he said. “For us to go out there and run with the best of the best, it caught everybody’s eye.”

Thomas’ drive and determination was ever present this past offseason. When RW Motorsport crew chief Michael Dutcher decided to part ways with Bryan Clauson, the 2012 USAC National Sprint Car champion, Thomas immediately called the rising team to offer his services. The youngster was persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer, which sealed the deal for RW Motorsports to take him in.

With Dutcher acting as his crew chief, A.J. Bray serving as the car chief, and co-owners Steven Weirich and Scott Ritchhart bringing their experience to the table, Thomas is hopeful 2013 can be his best year yet.

“If it’s ping pong to racing, I want to go in and win. I want to be the best at everything I do,” he said. “It’s a comforting situation because the whole crew thinks that way, too. We all have one goal, and that’s to win every race we show up at. I think we can do that.”

Thomas is certainly happy to be strutting his stuff on USAC’s highest series, but he still has bigger plans in store for the future. His end goal is to one day compete at the NASCAR level.

Thomas watched Kyle Larson jump up to auto racing’s biggest stage as a part of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s driver development program in 2012 following a dominant USAC career. With the doors he’s opened for himself by earning a spot at RW Motorsports, Thomas is confident he’ll be following a similar path as Larson’s before long.

“It’s the greatest opportunity I could have to make it to NASCAR,” he said. “I’m going to try to do everything in my power to make that happen.”

Those interested in watching Thomas take on USAC’s National Sprint Car field for the first time with his new team can watch the series’ opening three nights Feb. 21-23 on usaracing.tv. The live stream will be available for purchase.

% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at robk@cullmantimes.com.