This week we caught up with Nick Thomas, who is no stranger to drifting in the Midwest. From competing in the early days of Midwest Drift Union to dabbling in Formula Drift, we ask him about his transition from pro-am to pro, why he left Formula Drift, and what he’s got in store for 2016.
SMASHED: How did you get into drifting?
Thomas: I got into drifting roughly 8-9 years ago and it all started with some close friends from around town. They all had 240s, Corollas and Datsun 510’s. I thought at the time that the cars were silly and odd and had no clue why they chose them. One night after dinner, my friend Matt asked me if I wanted to go “drifting.” I asked him “What is that?” He proceeded to explain to me what “drifting” was. After the explanation I told him “hell yeah I want to go.” I have a background in racing motocross and transitioned back and forth from motocross on dirt bikes and quads. I had experienced the sensation of drifting before and that was one of the factors that kept me going back to motocross. The sensation of sliding a vehicle in close proximity to others in a turn and trying to edge them out on the track was addicting. So needless to say after the first night of sliding in a wet parking lot, I was addicted. From that point on I knew I wanted to pursue this up-and-coming sport. I got home that night and scoured the internet for drifting videos until I passed out on the keyboard – literally. (I will never forget watching the yellow JUN Supra drift and smoke the tires.) After the addiction had become full blown I was up late one night searching the internet for any and everything drift related and came across a 1989 Nissan 240SX with an SR in it. The car was supposedly making 300-350whp (that’s what the ad said anyway). I reached out to the owner and we agreed on a price and I went and picked up the car. With a well equipped 240SX we were off to the races.
SMASHED: You’ve been with MDU since 2010, acquiring a Formula D license before Pro2 was ever a thing, and going on to actually drive FD, before coming back to run MDU again. What was the transition from pro-am to FD?
Thomas: I have been running with MDU since 2010 and have loved every second of it. The guys at MDU were great from the start. They instantly make you feel like family. They even have that vulgar older brother that cusses you out and pushes you outside of your comfort zone, which is a good thing in my opinion since the sport is all about progression. I ran MDU in 2011 and due to some mechanical malfunctions and some miscommunications within my camp I was unable to finish the season, which put me in 5th place if I recall correctly. That put me right outside the Formula D licensing bubble. At the end of the season I developed a program to run FD in 2012 and petitioned for my license. After my petition was accepted, I was off to build my car for FD. The transition from pro-am to Formula Drift was very drastic for me at that point. Being a privateer and doing everything in house from the car build to marketing and website design was a challenge to say the least. With no prior experience in this realm I did all I thought was necessary to get ready for the big show. Going into FD was very eye opening for me. I will never forget the feeling pulling into Long Beach and seeing all of the rigs and new builds. I was overwhelmed with the amount of support and money that was being put into these other teams. I did my best to prepare for the big show, but after a fuel pickup issue that I was not able to remedy in time for qualifying my dream of running the streets of LBC were shot. At that point I was thinking “What did I get myself into?” The amount of funding required to run a full year of FD is intense. After running in Atlanta and Palm Beach and not qualifying high enough to be in the show I knew I had to change things up if I wanted to continue to run this season and next. The next round I attended was Wall Speedway in NJ. I had made several practice runs and was feeling comfortable on track running a mid line. My spotter radioed in and said I should try to run a more aggressive higher line in hopes to qualify with a strong score. I made four passes edging up the bank more and more each time. My last run in practice I tried to let it hang out just a little bit to far and the wall pulled me in and I ended up pretty much totaling the car. That was the end of my 2012 FD season.
SMASHED: And how was the return transition to pro-am?
Thomas: The transition into this season I had a clear mind and three year plan in place. I revamped part of the car and took the time between FD and MDU to sort out all of the issues that had plagued me before. The transition from FD back to MDU was absolutely awesome. I took all of my knowledge I gained at Formula D and applied that to my program for MDU. The change was great and I think it is mostly due to what we had learned from our mistakes. Being back in the hot seat competing again this past year was awesome. Seeing familiar faces and seeing how everyone had grown and progressed was very impressive. This got me very excited to drive with all my friends again. I can’t express how much love I have for the people at MDU and the drivers there. They really make this sport great to be involved in. From the comradery in the pits to the intense driving on track, the Midwest has it all. This year was absolutely awesome and couldn’t have went any better for me. I had minimal car failures and everything just seemed to work. There were a few battles that I am not proud of and wish they would have been different, but all I can do is learn and try to make changes to better myself for next time. Nonetheless I am still on cloud nine from our overall finish.
SMASHED: And now that you’ve got your Pro2 license for 2016 secured, do you plan on going back to that level next year, run another season of pro-am, or both?
Thomas: Now that we have the Pro 2 license, we intend on going back to FD in 2016 for Pro 2 and also doing some demos and instructing as well. I plan on driving a few MDU events next year as well. I have a highly developed program for next year which should make for a very competitive and successful season. I am looking forward to aligning with new sponsors and campaigning a new platform next year.
SMASHED: What would you say your ultimate goal is with drifting?
Thomas: My ultimate goal in drifting is to get to be in the top tier of drivers in the world. I would love to be able to run multiple series around the world simultaneously (Formula D, D1GP, King of Europe, British Allstars etc.) My number one goal in drifting is to never lose the drive that got me here in the first place, having fun and being able to spend time with friends and family at the track.
SMASHED: What’s your biggest motivation to reach these goals?
Thomas: My biggest motivation to reach these goals is the idea of taking a dream and turning it into a reality and not stopping until its done. I was raised to see things through so the drive runs deep in my blood. I am extremely motivated by all of the people I drive and interact with in the MDU series. They are an awesome group of people, like a family who supports each other and strives for everyone to progress and succeed. I am also motivated and supported by my awesome family who helps me strive to turn this dream into a reality. I can’t thank them all enough. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.
SMASHED: What are some of the biggest hurdles you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are now?
Thomas: One of the biggest hurdles to get here is to have the patience and perseverance to keep going. There are points where everything is just going wrong (funding not coming through, engines failing, trucks breaking, sponsors not coming through – the list goes on). Being patient is a virtue; it can help you learn a lot and also overcome obstacles you think are impossible. Some of the best lessons I have learned came from my mistakes. At the time I couldn’t think how they would help me in the future but now looking back at it, every mistake opened up a new way of thinking and a new approach to future problems. They teach you to re-invent yourself and think outside the box. At the time you may get pissed off and aggravated at the situation or scenario, but in the end you will learn from it and move on.
SMASHED: What’s your advice to those just starting out in the sport?
Thomas: Unless you have unlimited funding and have a track at your disposal, take your time and enjoy making mistakes and learning from them. Down the road you will look back and be happy you took the time to take the ride in this crazy sport. The lifelong relationships you build and the knowledge you gain from building your car and traveling to the events is priceless. To me, after being on this planet for 29 years, its not necessarily about the destination. It’s about the journey and experiences getting there. My best advice is to soak it up daily and enjoy the ride. Anyone looking to get into the sport – I would be more than happy to answer questions. Shoot me a message on FB or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current city: Nashville
Car: 1995 Nissan 240sx
Engine: LS2 Re-Sleeved and stroked to a 427
Suspension: Feal coilovers, PBM lower control arms and tension rods, DriftWorks geometer 2 knuckles all around, battle version arms everywhere else. Drive Shaft Shop axles. J30 diff Cusco 2 way
Wheels: Black Chrome Cosmis XT-006
Tires: Falken RT-615k 235-40-18, 265-35-18
Sponsors: Falken, Enjuku Racing, Bridgemoto, Cosmis, Holley Performance, 12 point sign works, more to come
Years Drifting: 8 years total. 6 of them competitively with some off time here and there.
Day Job: General Contractor ( I build custom homes)
First Drift car: 1989 240sx. Everyone thinks it was the turtle wax car. It was close but definitely not it haha.
Favorite track: My favorite track used to be the Nashville Superspeedway when it was open. Now that it has been closed, I would have to say Road Atlanta. Everything about the track is enticing from the location to the stadium feel that it produces. I love everything the venue has to offer. Not only does it cater to the drivers but to the spectators and fans as well. The overall feeling the track gives you is just immense and you can’t help but feel immersed in the racing world.