You gotta have priorities.
Darren Thomas knows what’s up. He gets up and goes to work in the morning like the rest of us, but what sets him apart is that, after work, he puts in another 8-10 hours a day working on his race car.
This has been the way he’s done things more often than not since I first interviewed him back in 2009. And it shows. He’s turning consistent 7-second quarter-mile times in a methanol-burning beast of a DSM we’re calling “The Pale Horse” because it could very easily be mistaken for one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
[ originally published: December 7, 2009 | updated: April 19, 2018 ]
[ Clarification: As this was republished after I’d spent an hour talking to Darren about things, I might have unintentionally misrepresented the facts. Per team manager, Giovannia, “Best ET was 8.3, 4 years ago on a smaller turbo and milder setup. Since he’s been running No Prep races, they don’t show times so we don’t have physical proof of 7’s on paper. We’re all more than convinced he’s been into the 7s though though data collected.” If we were talking about some Johnny-Come-Lately with a mouth on him, I’d have played it a bit more conservative. But Darren Thomas is the real deal and I’m taking his word for it. ]
He doesn’t do forums. He doesn’t do Facebook. (Giovannia, his most excellent team manager wife handles the Darren Thomas Racing page, and goes by OKDSMCHICA from time to time.) He doesn’t even like stickers on his car.
But you know what? Since this original interview way back in 2009, he’s had to scale back to part-time work at the day job so he can focus on getting all the paid side jobs out the door.
It didn’t come easy, though. Darren Thomas absolutely defines hustle in my book.
Keep an eye out for episode 12 of The Gearhead Project, coming soon.
Darren Thomas; Choctaw, Oklahoma. Part-time diesel mechanic.
What Mitsubishi do you race (in which series)?
I race a 1990 Eclipse GSX in a series called Import Face Off.
How long have you been racing Mitsubishi(s)?
About 5 years
What got you into Mitsubishi?
I thought they were a great car overall. I liked the body, and thought the motors could be practically bulletproof, if you knew what you were doing.
Got a favorite story to tell about your Mitsubishi?
The first time I ever took this car to the track, it was bone stock with a manual boost controller and a cheap intercooler. I ended running a 12.6 at 108mph! I was so excited!
What’s the stupidest thing that’s broken (or the stupidest reason why something broke)?
I don’t know if this counts as breaking, but there was one race where I was in the final and up against a 12 second car. Well, somehow about 1000 feet off the line, a vacuum line popped off, completely slowing me down to a crawl and the other car won. It was a pretty stupid thing to happen.
What are your goals for the car and how close are you to achieving them?
My overall goal is to back half the car making it rear wheel drive and run somewhere in the 6 second range.
What was your favorite event? Why?
My favorite event was a local one called Red River Shootout. It was a “TEXAS VS OKLAHOMA” type of rivalry race. I guess the promoters mostly advertised to the muscle car owners, because when we pulled up everyone looked at us like we were lost. It ended up being me against Vipers, Mustangs, and Camaros. In the end, no one was really happy that I decided to take on the challenge because I beat most of them.
What’s next for your Mitsubishi? Why?
Next for my car is to try and run 8.50s keeping my stock suspension and drivetrain. Doing so would put us near or breaking the stock automatic records.
Who has helped you the most along the way?
My friend Andrei owns Abel Racing where he started out working on Mitsubishis. He has really helped me with getting the tune right for my car, and giving me advice along the way.
Also our family friend Todd helps me with all my machine work, staying up really late to help me. Not to mention they feed me, since it seems like I’m always going non-stop!
Do you spend time on any Mitsubishi sites? Which ones? If not, where do you get your tech info?
I actually do not spend anytime on any sites or forums, I find that most of the things people are talking about doing, or actually doing nowadays has been around for awhile. I usually look at the diesel projects I have at work, and think “I can make this work on my car,” and just do it. I’m really not into what everyone else says or does, I just do what I think will work!
Why the automatic transmission and what can you tell us about how you’ve got it handling 700+awhp?
I decided to go with the automatic because it is consistent—you can’t miss any gears. I’ve been able to adjust pressures, install new clutches, and use a high stall converter.
How do you guys adjust pressures on the auto trans? Are the clutches that are changed out stock or somehow modified?
They are stock ones from NAPA. We up the line pressure and enlarge certain holes in the valve body and transmission. (I hope this isn’t too vague, but we do race competitively, and don’t like to give out really specific info., I’m sure you understand!)
Why do you do it? What’s the best part about racing?
I work on and race the car for the sportsmanship. Getting to meet all the new people at new tracks is always exciting. I like breaking my own boundaries when I race.
What’s the story behind traveling the country and how is it all funded? Sponsors, maybe?
Unfortunately I do not have any sponsorship help funding our travels. [Note: Remember, this was originally published NINE years ago. Darren’s got some sponsors these days.] It’s solely funded by our full-time day jobs.
We decided to travel the country in 2008 just for fun, like a mini vacation. As the series decided to start the points chase, we went ahead and kept with it knowing there would be a reason besides rest, relaxation, and fun in the end.
What’s the maintenance schedule like?
Well… I can say we have never come home from a race with nothing to fix. So if you look at it, we are fixing something everyday. It’s usually small things like rebuilding the transmission every 30 passes or so.
How does the crew help out on the road? At home?
At home my crew takes on different jobs. Giovannia does all the maintenance and updates to my website while my dad and I do all the maintenance on the car. My tuner makes sure that everything running smooth.
On the road, we all take shifts driving to make sure we all get a little bit of sleep. At the races, we have pretty much mastered the art of unloading the trailer and setting up. Giovannia makes sure I’m ready to be teched-in with all my gear ready and lets me know exactly how much time we have left between rounds while my dad and I go over the motor and make sure nothing is leaking or broken.
For more information about Darren’s race program, visit his website. Plenty of pictures and videos to check out!