By Tim Tuttle
DUQOIN, Ill. (Nov. 20, 2012)—Tyler Thomas returns to the Mini Magic Mile at the Southern Illinois Center for the third annual Battle at the Center on Dec. 15 confident that he can compete for a victory against what is expected to be an all-star field in the non-points event sanctioned by the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series.
Thomas, a 16-year-old from Collinsville, Okla., has two very good reasons for his self-assurance. He was the feature winner on Aug. 31 and finished second to Bryan Clauson on Sept. 1 at the one-sixth mile track in POWRi’s regular season. Thomas led 29 laps before Clauson passed him on the final lap.
“I feel like we’ve got a good handling car for Du Quoin,” Thomas said. “I’m really excited to get going again. It’s a pretty big race with all the big names, the drivers who have been real successful over the years. I really enjoy going to all the big races. It’s good to compete against the best. It makes you a better driver.
“We’ve got the car (a Triple X-Esslinger) torn apart and are in the process of rebuilding it. It would be really cool to win a race again with everyone being there.”
Thomas became the youngest feature midget winner in POWRi history at age 15 when he won at West Plains (Mo.) Motor Speedway in 2011. It was also his first event in a fully-powered midget. Thomas drove in 10 events in his rookie season, making seven features with three top-10s.
Thomas finished fifth in the championship this season. He entered 26 events and made every feature. He won his third career feature at Macon (Ill.) Speedway on Sept. 29. Thomas started the season by finishing second in a 64-car field at Cowtown Speedway in Kennedale, Texas, and was third in the fourth event at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Mo.
“It was a pretty up-and-down season,” Thomas said. “I had a lot of mechanical failures that shouldn’t happen to a race car driver. I feel like our finishes could have been a lot better.”
Thomas led 10 laps at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., but finished 18th when the drive line failed. He led seven laps in a second event at Grain Valley, but finished ninth with brake problems. At Lincoln (Ill.) Speedway, he led 20 laps and fell out when a battery wire broke off and finished 13th. At Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, Wis., Thomas led two laps early and was in the top five when the oil line fell off and caused an engine failure.
Thomas competed in the Battle of the Center last year, but failed to transfer from his qualifying heat to the feature.
“I missed it by one spot,” Thomas said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the past year. I’ve learned more patience and how to be aggressive whenever the time is right. I think I’ve gotten smarter.”
The Battle at the Center will have a 40-lap feature at the Southern Illinois Center, located at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds. It will be televised on SPEED’s Lucas Oil on the Edge on a delayed basis.