Defending Wheel Man Racing Series champion Patrick Thomas broke the news Monday morning on Speed51’s “The Bullring” that he will be making an unexpected return to the series in 2020. The 2019 champion had no intention of running at the start of the season, having sold his car to go dirt racing with his son; however, through a turn of events, his new car owner Phil Jacques decided to put him behind the wheel for the inaugural race at New Smyrna Speedway this Saturday, February 8.
“We’re announcing that we are running the Wheel Man race [at New Smyrna],” Thomas said. “Our plan was to go run some dirt with my son, me and him were already putting a little car together. But the guy who bought the Sportsman I ran last year kinda got with me, and when they made the race at New Smyrna a Wheel Man race said, ‘Hey, I’m not moving down from Connecticut until April, so why don’t you take that car and run that Wheel Man race because we want more Wheel Man races at New Smyrna. So why don’t we go support it? So go take the car and go race it.’ So we put a 77 on the side of it and I’m going to show up driving someone else’s car at New Smyrna.”
For Thomas, the chance to return to a division he believes in at a race track he enjoys is the perfect combination he couldn’t pass up.
“I believe this is the fifth year of the series this year,” Thomas said. “What it costs to run one of these things, I think, for a lot of people, is a viable way to go racing with a real race car that you can adjust at a bunch of different race tracks. The shock package is cheap. The motor combination with the 602 crate engine, albeit sealed up and factory stock. It makes everybody know that they have a chance. You don’t have to have a new race car. Heck, mine was an old one and we won some races and a championship with it.
“I sold my car and I’m able to put body sides and a nose on it for about $350, which is something I did for the new owner of the car I ran last year,” he continued. “So when you can turn the car around like that for that little bit of money and make it somebody else’s without any of your badging on it, it’s got to be good for during the season when you tear something up, and you’re bound to tear something up, which is one of the other great things about the series, it loves inverts. You qualify fast and you start mid-pack, but that makes for such good racing.”
Thomas will be returning to a race track where he has won two World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing championships during his career. Being close to home, the opportunity to race at the New Smyrna Beach, Florida oval is something that he’s looking forward to.
“For me, New Smyrna is home. It’s about 35 minutes from my house,” Thomas said. “I’m an east coast guy. I’m not one of those guys from the west coast and just run quarter miles. I ran New Smyrna for years and years.
Though asphalt fans shouldn’t expect to see Thomas behind the wheel for more than a handful of Sportsman starts in 2020, he still plans to be at the race track. Only now, he’ll be going back to his roots to develop a dirt racing program for his soon-to-be 13-year-old son.
“I can’t believe that myself. He’s about to turn thirteen on Friday. I never had him in a racecar. He never had a whole lot of interest until about a year ago,” Thomas explained. “He started hanging out playing, he wanted to come to the race track more often, and I’ve got him now where he’s working on the cars and iRacing a lot. I had a rule with my wife where we wouldn’t put him in a full size car until he was 15. So, I guess I get to run a little bit of dirt to get my program back together. To be honest, I haven’t run on dirt since 2000.”
Be sure to follow Speed51.com this Saturday for complete coverage of the season opener for the Wheel Man Sportsman Series, as well as the entire World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna.
-Story by: Allick Jorgensen, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @AJorgensen24
-Photo credit: Phil Jacques Racing