Feature Article, Stock Cars, Washington — September 25, 2004 at 4:47 pm

CJ and Willy Thom (issue 61)

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By Craig Murphy

On any given weekend, odds are good at least one member of the Thom family is racing at South Sound Speedway.

After running with the Northwest Street Stock Tour (NWSST) last year, Willy Thom is a rookie in the Super Stock division at SSS this year.

Wife C.J. recently returned to Street Stocks, after her car was heavily damaged in a crash this spring.

Ten-year-old son Austin, better known as ‘Hoss’, races Mini-Cups.

Daughter Samantha, 13, doesn’t race but does help keep the cars clean. She is also credited with coming up with her little brother’s nickname.

“The name ‘Hoss’ came about when he was little,” Willy recalled with a chuckle. “Samantha couldn’t say Austin so she called him ‘Hoss’ and it stuck.”

For Willy, the family involvement with racing is huge. “I get as much of a kick watching my son and wife race as I do driving myself,” he said.

Willy, a former barefoot water skiing competitor, got into racing after going to a Winter Heat race in 1999 and buying a Street Stock three weeks later. He’s had Jeff Strautman and Walter Mellon with him from the start, while former Winston West team members Kevin Clark and Shane Courtin joined later.

“We really like the team element,” said Willy, who raced at Portland Speedway before that track closed. “The team element makes it cool. When we have a good night it’s not ‘I had a good night,’ but we had a good night. When we have a bad night and crash, we crash.”

One crash the team had was during C.J.’s heat race April 24. “I was going to run a full season, but that didn’t work out,” C.J. noted. “I got airborne, and got into the fence. It was pretty scary. I hung onto the wheel and closed my eyes. I thought I was going over.”

Hoss was worried about his mom after the accident. “He was scared until he saw that I was okay,” C.J. said. “That’s why we have all this safety gear.”

C.J. has liked the social aspect of racing. She was a spectator before running some NWSST races in 2002.

“When Willy started, I took the kids to the track every Friday,” she said. “It’s been fun meeting a lot of people, and getting advice from a lot of people.”

Two-time defending track Super Stock champion Nick Behn has been giving plenty of advice, especially to Willy as he makes the transition to a Late Model car.

“Nick has been huge,” Willy said. “He has jumped in the car, and helped me know what to tell the crew. I didn’t know before what it meant to add wedge, or to know where it is tight or loose. He’s taken us under his wing.”

Willy has found the transition to Late Models huge. “It’s much more than I expected,” he said. “I should have spent a year in Sportsman, I’m not sure. I’ve sure spun the car out enough this year. Basically I went to double the horsepower from last year.”

As such, the team tried to set realistic goals for this year. “We wanted to try and finish the year in the top five, and get through with as few wrecks as possible,” Willy said. “A win was maybe out there as a goal. A win is pretty tough to come by. It takes time to pay your dues.”

Heading into the final two races of the year, Willy sits fourth in points. One of the best runs of the year came in the biggest race, the July 24 Miller 200. Willy finished an impressive third behind Jeff Barkshire and Bob Presley.

“That was awesome,” Willy said. “I had maybe a little more for Presley at the end, but I’m not sure anyone had anything for the 46 (Wilkshire). He looked pretty fast back from where I was. We finished about where the car was capable of.”

One of the highlights of the race for Willy was his spirited battle with Behn, who tried repeatedly to get past but couldn’t. “That was a lot of fun,” he noted.

The team almost didn’t run the race. “C.J. has seen the mayhem in that race the last two years, and didn’t want us to run it,” Willy said. “The team had a 50-50 vote due to the wrecks. I went ahead and cast the deciding vote.”

C.J. finally got to return to the driver’s seat for the Aug. 14 Street Stock race, which caught her by surprise. “I didn’t know about this until I got to the track,” she said. “I was helping unload Willy’s car when one of our guys wheeled this car out. I was excited. Everyone was in on it except me.”

The car used to be 90, and is now simply #9. “The 90 didn’t work out. It was a little bit rocky,” C.J. said with a laugh. “We had mechanical issues last year, and the wreck this year.”

C.J. said racing has kept the family from Dundee, Ore. (southwest of Tigard) close. “It can be adventurous and busy, but it brings us all together,” she said. “It helps out a lot with the terminology. I’m still learning, and Willy has taken it on more.”

Neither Willy nor C.J. anticipates making a career of racing. “This is our Nextel Cup,” Willy said. “I know I won’t drive a race car for a living, so we have as much fun as we can.”

For C.J., Street Stocks are just fine, thank you very much. “I’m good with the Street Stock,” she said. “It’s fast enough for me. Willy can do all the serious stuff.”

Hoss, whose Mini-Cup is painted to match his parents’ identical looking cars, may go further. “He is a very good and smooth little driver,” C.J. said. “We let him know to have fun with it. He can go as far as he wants, and we’ll support him. He has joked about going to NASCAR. It’s up to him to do what he wants.”

The Thoms are looking at helping other children. Willy is working on a deal with a couple of children’s hospitals where crews can visit the children, and possibly have children visit the track.

“We all get wound up, lose track and forget how fortunate we are to come here and have fun,” Willy said.

C.J. hopes something can be worked out allowing children to visit the track. “It would be neat to show kids what it’s all about, and to enjoy it as a family,” she said.

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