By Mike Adaskaveg
Merced Sun Star
Young drivers Chase Thomas and Garrett Corn will never forget the sweet taste of their first stock car feature victories at Merced Speedway.
Thomas, a senior at Buhach Colony High School, topped a field of experienced drivers in the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) SportMod feature event last Saturday night. Corn, a 19-year-old construction worker from Catheys Valley, drove to his first win two weeks earlier in the Hobby Stock Division.
No Doubting Thomas
With a third, then a second-place finish preceding his win, Thomas has become a top contender, catching the attention of his rivals.
To win, he had to get through 12 seconds of last-lap stress.
“When I saw the white flag, I was both scared and excited. The last lap was intense,” admitted Thomas. “I just kept telling myself ‘don’t mess up!’”
That stress was relieved once the checkered flag flew.
“Seeing that checkered flag waving in front of me was such a great feeling,” he said. “When I crossed the finish line, I just yelled ‘YES!’
Thomas beamed with pride when champ Rick Diaz gave him the ‘thumbs up’ sign. Diaz had finished ahead of Thomas every week this season.
“Rick even got of his car quicker than I could – just to run up and shake my hand. How cool is that?” Thomas said. “I’d been running with him for the longest time in each feature event this year – then he always seems to get away from me. But, not this week.”
Thomas’s Show Promise
Chase Thomas isn’t the only son that dad Darren Thomas has racing at Merced Speedway. Tanner Thomas, 15, led his brother in the championship points tally up until July. Darren Thomas gave up his “ride” so he could be crew chief for his two sons.
But, Darren Thomas got behind the wheel of son Chase’s car in Watsonville two weeks ago for the Cecil Classic.
“He got his one race in,” joked Chase. “Seriously, he would rather watch Tanner and I race. He gets really excited.”
Darren Thomas has helped his boys understand the intricacies of setting up the suspension of the SportMods. He’s there during a race to change a tire or make a quick repair on either car if need be”
“Us three do it all when it comes to taking care of the cars,” Chase Thomas explains. “My dad’s great with numbers. He keeps track of the chassis settings and the shock absorbers.”
A brotherly rivalry makes racing a little more fun for the Thomas’s.
“We talk smack about each other – we’re brothers,” Chas Thomas admits. “When we race each other – we race clean. We don’t hit each other’s cars.”
Chase Thomas first drove the speedway last season, when track preparation different from this season. The surface is dry and slick, meaning a new set of driving skills are necessary for success.
“I have to drive into the turns slower because the track is so slick,” Chase Thomas explained. “I’m really working hard to make the car faster and it’s paying off. We change chassis settings after the heat race – and we have been right on target with our settings.”
Corn Comes Home
Corn traveled the state racing in outlaw karts since he was three years old. His dad, Nathan, raced stock cars. It wasn’t until this season that Garrett Corn sat behind the wheel of a stock car.
“My dad urged me to try driving a hobby stock,” Garrett Corn said. “I told him they look slow – compared to the adult karts I had driven since I was three. He said I would be surprised if I just tried driving a hobby stock.”
Corn did, driving for Turlock’s Gary Hildebrand at the start of the season.
“Suddenly, I was second in points and I was having a lot of fun – dad was right,” Garrett Corn said.
It was time for Corn to get serious. He bought the hobby stock driven last season by Merced veteran driver Marshall Weaver.
Three races later, he was victory lane.
“The hobby stock is a little bit slower than a kart,” explained Corn. “My reaction time to incidents on the track is quick – because of karting. It seems like I have all the time in the world to make a move with the hobby stock.”
Corn found the highly competitive hobby stock class has its challenges.
“”I’ve never raced any car with fenders on it before this season,” he said. “There’s actual beating and banging, pushing and shoving between the cars on the track. You’d never see that in kart racing – the cars would flip from contact.”
For Corn, the Rookie of the Year trophy is within grasp.
“I’m trying to win by keeping my nose clean,” he said. “I get rubbed on more than I rub others. It’s all part of racing.”
This Week at Merced Speedway
The IMCA Modified and SportMod divisions will headline a complete program that includes the Hobby Stock and Vintage Valley Sportsman divisions. Junior Box Stock Karts will also race on the small infield track.
The Speedway will be dark for the following two weeks in observance of Labor Day on Sept. 3 and the IMCA Supernationals in Boone, Iowa on Sept.10.
Racing begins at 7 p.m. Grandstand Opens at 5 p.m.
Program will be approximately 3 hours or less.
Seniors 65 and older $10.00
Students with an ID – 13 to 17 – $10.00
Children 6 to 2 $5.00
Kids 5 and under FREE
Family Pack 2 adults and 2 children $30.00