Cale Thomas has always wanted to race a significant number of shows on the central Pennsylvania winged Sprint Car scene.
The concept has been thrown around a few times. Thomas’ name has been brought up to a number of Keystone State owners, but the interest wasn’t enough to where he was brought in for a job.
That changed this offseason. Car-owner John Trone was parting ways with Cory Haas and was looking for something a little different heading into the 2020 season.
Trone found what he is looking for in Thomas. Thanks to Kevin Frey, a former crew chief with Trone’s team, Trone and the Indiana driver have inked a deal that will bring Thomas to the region.
“Kevin took a liking to me through social media,” Thomas said. “I think he heard the story about my wreck and getting cancer, and it impacted him. He became a fan and watched my races, and I think became my Pennsylvania advocate. He always tried to get me in certain cars out there all the time.
“I never raced out there. I think most of the PA people weren’t sure of me, and since I didn’t win any big, big races, they didn’t want me out there yet.”
Continued Thomas, “I think, finally, after I was on Open Red — I talked about wanting to run in PA — Kevin sent John the Open Red Podcast. He watched two of my Outlaw races after that, and I ran really well.
“I qualified well, and that is something he really wanted. It’s not winning races, but qualifying is a really big deal to the transition of winning races. Since I’m pretty good at that, it attracted him to picking me up.”
Fast laps at the beginning of the night are key. That’s Sprint Car racing today. You time well in a World of Outlaws or high-profile local event, and you start near the front in the heat race and the A-Main.
Thomas has shown a knack for laying down good laps when it matters most. And with more high-dollar shows going to the time-trial format, he was one of the names near the top of Trone’s list.
It wasn’t the only one. Trone talked to Shane Stewart, Spencer Bayston, and Dale Blaney. Still, Thomas was the complete package of youth, an ability to time well, and chemistry through their discussions, which led to Trone going outside Pennsylvania for the first time in his career.
“When I hired Greg, I considered him Posse, so this is the first time I ventured out,” Trone said. “I’m getting up there and starting to lose family and friends, and I got to thinking that I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this.
“I just think in order to do well in big races, you don’t have a chance if you don’t get in the Dash. In order to make the Dash, you’ve got to time great. So, I figured I would make a change and go outside the area, and I think this kid is going to be pretty good.
“I had a lot of people calling, guys who are really good. I think all of the guys who called are good drivers, but I just think it’s time to get some young blood in the area.”
No doubt, there are some fans who are unaware of Thomas’ exploits. After all, he doesn’t have a World of Outlaws win, something he hopes to change this season in the Trone Outdoor entry.
Still, Thomas, who owns an All Star Circuit of Champions victory, has run well with the Outlaws. He has timed well in those events and placed in the top 10.
In 2019, Thomas, again, took on all comers. He ran 25 times, 16 of which came against the World of Outlaws. He timed sixth at Lakeside and Lake Ozark Speedway with the series and showed his chops at Knoxville Raceway during a weekly show, setting quick time ahead of Brian Brown, Sheldon Haudenschild, and Parker Price-Miller.
That’s not bad for a 22-year-old from Indiana running a family-owned deal. And despite being from the Hoosier State, he’s had an affection for winged racing, specifically in central Pennsylvania.
“I think there are a number of reasons I wanted to come to PA,” Thomas said. “Number one is the local competition. I think Ohio, which has been my home place because Indiana doesn’t really have winged racing … Ohio has always had good local competition. I think it’s one of the most slept on areas since Eldora is the most popular race, and most guys are smaller budget teams. They don’t get a chance to shine.
“In PA, you have that same toughness at racetracks that are really, really tough and the Outlaws and All Stars race at consistently. I think PA is a place to race really tough guys consistently and get that fluidity of the Outlaws and All Stars coming through. So not only are you racing the best you can locally, you are racing the best of the best a lot, whether it’s the All Stars or Outlaws.”
Trone and Thomas will be a fixture in central Pennsylvania, but there are opportunities to travel if things are going well.
A schedule hasn’t been put in place just yet, but it’s already been reported that Trone wants to race more. But before a slate can be released, the team needs to hire a full-time crew chief.
“It’s a work in progress,” Trone said. “We are interviewing a couple of guys, but there aren’t many crew chiefs out there who are available. We are trying to figure it out, but we are looking for someone more full time than before.
“If we are doing well, I would probably like to go out to Eldora and Knoxville. Getting a crew chief helps out with all of that, but Cale is also going to move in here and spend more time with the car so we can give it our best shot.”
Thomas doesn’t limit himself in regard to future plans. His only requirement is to drive a Sprint Car, whether it’s his family deal, a Trone-owned entry, or another ride.
As far as running in central Pennsylvania for an extended period of time, Thomas is content to do so. But, he also knows that he will have to adjust and perform to stick around the region.
That means adapting to the drastic differences between Lincoln, Port Royal, and Williams Grove Speedway. It means being able to compete with Danny Dietrich, Lucas Wolfe, Brian Montieth, and Lance Dewease and steal some wins.
“I hope Posse fans accept me,” Thomas chuckled. “Danny Dietrich and I get along very well, so I just hope I don’t run into anyone early and make Posse fans mad or start any Twitter drama.
“I’m going to give myself a month or a little more than that before I get discouraged. Lincoln reminds me of Attica with walls, and Port Royal has a momentum feel like Eldora. Williams Grove, you can’t compare that to anything.
“I’m not too scared. I just want everyone to know that I’m not going to drive anyone dirty or think I’m better than anyone else. I just want to run consistent and well and not tear up too much equipment. Expectations are open, but I wouldn’t mind a win, two, or three, or more, either.”