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Mark Thomas

Last year, Mark Thomas wrapped up his fifth IHRA Funny Car championship after winning four of 11 events in his Ethanol Performs! Dodge Avenger-bodied flopper. After parting ways with crew chief Jim Lape early this season, Thomas began his title defense in March by qualifying third at Rockingham Dragway, then making it to the final round against 2001 points runner-up Jimmy Rector, where he suffered an uncharacteristic redlight start.

"I allowed myself to get shook," Thomas, 42, explained. "I always used a tach and a shift light my whole life, but when we started the car they didn't work. When I went to stage I had convinced myself that I could still listen pretty good for an old guy, but besides redlighting, I left in second gear, so I was all messed up."

His competitors can't count on that to happen often. Thomas has 17 IHRA national event wins to his credit (just one behind all-time leader Von Smith, who is now an NHRA regular) and has appeared in more final rounds (36) than any other IHRA Funny Car pilot.

In 1998 he was the first recipient of IHRA's Sportsman of the Year award, which according to IHRA's media guide, is the sanctioning body's most prestigious award and recognizes the driver who "exemplifies the best qualities of teamwork, fellowship, and compassion that personify the winning human spirit." Upon accepting the honor, Thomas said it meant even more to him than his championships because, "They just say that I'm a good racer; this says that I'm also a good person."

Thomas lives on a large farm near Louisville, Ohio ("It's pronounced 'Lewisville,' the right way," according to Thomas), where he grows corn and manages a herd of more than 700 cattle. He is married to Christine and has three children: Valerie (9), Andrea (6), and Nick (4).

Thomas recently sat down with DRO to describe his career, his concerns, and his contentment with how his life has turned out so far.

Copyright 2002, Drag Racing Online and Racing Net Source