Life with Dirt in Your Hair: Six Races & Six Months

Life with Dirt in Your Hair: Six Races & Six Months

Whitney Thomas - Kevin ThomasIt’s July and I’m sitting in the motorhome in Knoxville, Iowa. It’s been exactly one year since Bryan Clauson passed away, and my heart feels heavy today. I got to sit with his dad, Tim, last night in the Clauson Marshall suite at the Raceway. I was watching Kevin run the Indy Race Parts No.71 entry during the Capitani Classic. It was refreshing seeing Tim laugh after the weekend they just endured. The strength of that family still amazes me.

So, let me get you up to speed since our last chat. About six minutes after my last article was published, gushing about how we loved being with the No.82 team, Kevin got fired.

Of course, I’m being sarcastic with the time frame, but that’s what it felt like. After six races, he was once again without a ride, and the season had already started. Did I mention he got a win in those six races, and that he is still the only driver to win in that car this season?

When the news broke, that Kevin was let go from the team the internet seemed to explode, right along with my head. I’m from the South and my momma always told me that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. The friends and fans didn’t take the news that well either, but the outpouring of support for Kevin and myself spoke volumes.

That was my silver lining in the whole experience. Everything happens for a reason.

We are now into mid-March and Kevin has already missed the first set of races with the USAC Nationals series. He’s lucked up and was fortunate enough to hop in the Pace Brothers No.44 for the first part of the year. After six races in that car he won at Lincoln Park Speedway. In the meantime, he started to put his own team together again. He’s not a points racer, and wants to race every possible chance he can, so this seemed like the best option. With the help of many people, including his family, Abreu Vineyards, and countless others we put a race team together in what seemed like overnight.

On June 1, he debuted his own car at a WAR race in Fairbury, Illinois, was leading coming to the checkers, and the second-place car took him out. Neither of them finished, but the car wasn’t hurt so we moved on. He set Quick Time and a new track record at Knoxville Raceway two days later.

We then trucked it all the way home to race at Kokomo Speedway the next day. That’s something that has become more and more frequent. Midnight riding to make it to Kokomo. This trip was worth it. He won in his own No.9k and all was right with the world again.

It didn’t stop there. His team ran 15 races in 18 days and won five times. I couldn’t be prouder of those guys. Brad Alexander and Robert Brown Jr. (known to the public at Slidejob Bob, haha) worked their butts off. We all did.

Whitney Thomas - Kevin Thomas Jr

Whitney congratulating Kevin in Victory Lane.

At the end of June Kevin got another shot at running a winged sprint car. Bernie Stuebgen let him race the Indy Race Parts No.71 at Atomic Speedway. He ran 9th with the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions. It felt like a win to me. Looking around that night at some of the guys that didn’t make the show, who have been racing wing stuff for years, made me pretty proud once again.

In between national races, Kevin picked up a local ride with Mike Gass Racing in his family owned No.17. Kevin won for them twice this year along with several other podium finishes, and Top 10’s. He’d now won in four different cars, and had a strong run in the winged car as well.

It’s now July. Kevin has 8 wins under his belt, and a fully functioning competitive Sprint Car team. These guys had one thing on their mind, winning USAC’s Indiana Sprint Week title. Kevin had come close two other times, finishing a very close second.

Weather didn’t want to cooperate so the first night at Gas City was postponed due to rain. He ran 7th at Kokomo, which to him was devastating because he has been pretty dominate there this year and last. Lawrenceburg would bring some life back to the team with a third-place finish, only to have it sucked right back out with a 14th-place result at Gas City. They were starting to get bummed I could tell. Terre Haute rained out, and was not being made up, which didn’t hurt my feelings any. Putnamville also rained out, but was reschedule for Sunday.

Bloomington was upon us and it just so happens that we celebrate our anniversary there every year.

Side note: We met four years ago at the Frolic during Sprint Week. Shout out to The Frolic Bar and Grill for bringing people together year in and year out. For an anniversary gift, he got me a big check and trophy, and I met him in Victory Lane that night with a smile and kiss. He scored win number ten, and took the Sprint Week points lead. Haubstadt was up next, and it’s one of his favorite places. He led every lap and lost it at the line to Kyle Cummins. It was a crazy race. We were all pretty disappointed, but kept the big picture in mind.

The final night at Lincoln Park Speedway would determine who took home the title. Robert Ballou was sitting second in points. Kevin had to finish 8th or better to win the championship. Ballou won the race, and Kevin ran 5th. After 10-plus years he finally got to sit in the coveted rocking chair, which is now the centerpiece in my living room. Ten wins and a Sprint Week Title in four months. I’m tired, but it was worth it. We flew down to Florida the next day literally, and slept by the pool for three days.

The rocking chair that Kevin won for his Indiana Sprint Week title.

The rocking chair that Kevin won for his Indiana Sprint Week title.

Recharged and back at it, Kevin and Bernie decided to run the Knoxville Nationals. The Capitani Classic was on Sunday, and since Kevin doesn’t have many laps in a wing car they decided it was best to practice. Knoxville is no place to mess with. It commands respect, so some practice laps eased my nerves.

Kevin qualified 10th and locked in to the feature through his heat race. I was so relieved, and once again proud. His qualifying night for the Knoxville Nationals was Wednesday. I feel like it was definitely the more competitive night. He ended up 31st in qualifying and was pretty bummed. The heat race was a different story. Bernie and Sean had the car hooked up and Kevin won his heat race. He started and finished 14th in the feature.Kevin Thomas Jr

After both qualifying nights were complete, Kevin ended up 34th in overall points out of almost 100 cars. He missed locking into the B-main on Saturday by 8 spots. This meant we were back to racing Friday night. Once again he would go out late in qualifying, which had him nervous. This format is so qualifying dependent. Kevin rolled the bottom of the track and came across the line 4th quick in his group. My jaw was on the floor. He never runs the bottom. Kevin is a live or die by the top kind of guy and he just rolled the bottom at Knoxville like a pro. He ended up not making the feature that night, but still made some pretty good gains

The accumulated points over three nights put Kevin starting 14th in the C-main on Saturday. Four cars transferred and he finished 8th. That was the end of our Knoxville Nationals. I will say he was one of the only cars to pass anyone in that C-main.

I knew he would be mad. No matter what he gets behind the wheel of he expects to win. He doesn’t let laps or seat time be an excuse or a crutch. I think that’s what separates drivers from racers. He’s a racer.

To my knowledge Kevin was the only true non-wing racer at the event. He was still very displeased. I told him that every other guy there has raced more times in the last month than he has total in a winged car. I told him there were past Knoxville Nationals Champions that were watching the A-main just like him. He didn’t care. It still wasn’t good enough for him. His desire to win is unrivaled.

He has really excelled this year in any car he gets behind the wheel. He impresses me. It’s exhausting sometimes, but I’d never interfere with his passion for racing. After the first 6 races, I thought our season was down the drain, again, but six months and 11 wins later, life is looking pretty good.

Did I mention we have wing spuds on the latest DRC chassis? Stay tuned…

Read more of Whitney Thomas’ signature articles:
Life with Dirt in Your Hair: Volume 1 – Edition 1
Life with Dirt in Your Hair: Volume 1 – Edition 2
Life with Dirt in Your Hair: Volume 1 – Edition 3
Life with Dirt in Your Hair: Volume 1 – Edition 4
Life with Dirt in Your Hair: Volume 1 – Edition 5
Life with Dirt in Your Hair: Volume 1 – Edition 6
Life with Dirt in Your Hair: Volume 1 – Edition 7
Life with Dirt in Your Hair: Volume 2 – Edition 1

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