John Thomas 2008 F Prepared Solo Champion

by Scott Hearne on March 24, 2009

As someone who has been perceived to be ‘other worldly’ due to his past success in a certain Honda Civic John Thomas has returned from whence he came the last few years to his own car, a 1971 Datsun 240Z, to again begin his winning streak. He continued streak #2 by adding yet another Championship in that 1971 Datsun 240Z on Hoosier tires to become the 2008 F Prepared Solo National Champion. John is a member of the Mississippi Region SCCA.

RR: Is this your first attendance at Nationals?
JT: Nope. In all I have competed eighteen years; 1989, 1991 and 1993-2008.

RR: Is this your first National Championship?
JT: Nope. I won in 1991 a Datsun 240Z, 1993-2003 in the Tom Lombardo Honda Civic and 2006-2008 in my Datsun 240Z. I hold the record for the most consecutive Championships, the record for the most open class Championships and I have eight other Pro Solo Championships including the Overall Pro Solo Championship in 1993.

RR: What was your favorite memory(s) of the competition?
JT: The first championship in 1991 in a car that was definitely out classed, planets aligned that day; 1993, First year in the Honda, Winning the Pro Solo Overall Championship; 2007, Beating Greg Fordahl in their 914. Greg is one of the best out there so it was a serious accomplishment for me and helped give me some confidence back on my driving skill that I thought I had lost.

RR: What do you think was your key to success?
JT: Overall I think have learned from the best in the sport by watching, listening and copying what they do. I believe our sport has, as a percentage of competitors, the highest quality drivers around. I have also been very fortunate to have great teammates (Tom Lombardo & Karen Christoff, (Tom’s wife) when I was driving the Honda. In addition I have been close friends with Grady Wood, Doug Gill and others close to the SCCA organization. It’s been a great ride so far.

RR: Who has most influenced you?
JT: I would not be as successful as I have been in the sport if it were not for Tom Lombardo so I would have to look to him as a significant influence

RR: Who inspires you?
JT: If we are talking about within the sport, I can’t say any individual person has inspired me. Rather every top notch driver, Eric Strelnieks, John Ames, Mark Daddio, the list is endless, inspires me to be as good as them. In addition if you have ever stood on course and watched a driver drift a car consistently within inches of a cone, you have to be inspired by the talent. So in short, the drivers.

RR: Do you have any special pre-race routine, or any superstitions you follow?
JT: Very diligent in course walking. Breaking the course into sections, standing off line as a corner worker and imagining the car going through the course. Finally, using a stop watch to time myself as I imagine driving the course. You would be surprised how close the good drivers can come to their actual course time.

RR: Do you have any driving aids or tools you use to help you?
JT: Nope, just the ‘ole seat of the pants

RR: What do you think you do differently than your competition?
JT: If I had to guess based on comments from others, I typically can get out of turns faster than the competition. To me exit speed is critical to consistent fast times. Slow in, fast out. Also if you look at my times historically on a National level my first run to last run typically varies less then 8 tenths. So I can typically lay down a fast first run far beyond the competition. However it’s always hard to watch them drop full seconds each run and close the gap as I am dropping only a few tenths.

RR: Have you attended any driving school?
JT: No professional schools. I have instructed for McKamey, Evolution School and local SCCA, Porsche and BMW clubs. I really enjoy instructing new competitors. Watching the light bulbs go off when they understand a new skill and get it right is very rewarding.

RR: Describe your driving style.
JT: Very aggressive, not as smooth as most. Hard on brakes. I like oversteer, in moderation of course. I recently rode with Danny Shields at a Porsche event. Danny is extremely smooth with inputs and transitions. I on the other hand am very quick and direct with inputs so it’s surprising to see how different we can be in driving styles yet within thousandths on actual time. I also am a firm believer in left foot braking. This is a skill that I honed driving the Honda. A fast front wheel drive car is one that throttle-off oversteers. Using the left foot is the only way to effectively limit the rotation.

RR: What was your first –and favorite autocross car?
JT: I would have to say my Z car. It’s been a good friend for a long time. The Honda was extremely fun and was always an attention getter due to the quick time we could turn. However the Z is the sentimental favorite

RR: If you could change one Solo rule – either for your specific class or in general — what would it be?
JT: I think SCCA has done a great job with the rules. Hey, there a so many different car and driver combinations that it’s an insurmountable task to make everyone and every car competitive.

RR: Who would you like to thank for your success?
JT: Again, Tom. Grady and Karen and I will add in Richard Holden a fellow Z car FP competitor whom I have known since the beginning. If it were not for them I might be playing golf or something much less significant than autocross. My closest friends have come from the sport and I have cherished every cone along the way. Where I have had the opportunity I have tried to give back to the sport, like organizing the Meridian National Tour back in the late 90s which seemed to be very successful events.

Pictures courtesy of www.gotcone.com & John Thomas

For copies of photos email david @ evorticity.com

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