Newbie James Thomas Enjoys Learning The Ropes
Story By: Savannah Rose
Photos By: Brandon Bunch
Every kid needs a hobby, even better when it’s one they can truly fall in love with for years to come. Off-road is a great option, giving them something to look forward to all week, and a great reason to finish their homework and chores so they’ll be able to get in some seat time. The thought of competing in a race keeps them even more pumped all week. The anticipation of getting to put on a race suit, strap on their helmet, and drive fast, long before they’re legally allowed to drive on the streets, is possibly even better than a trip to Disneyland.
Meet James Thomas – or better known as JT. We met this 13 year old racing newbie at The 2020 Off Road Nationals, where he was piloting his fourth race to date. What caught our eye and made us so excited to talk to James was how truly exhilarated he looked when he was behind the wheel – he had a giant, pearly white grin the entire time. Whether he was on course, staging, or even after the checkered flag you could spot that grin from cheek to cheek in a full-face race helmet. There’s no poker face here, his version of a race face is all smiles, all the time.
James hails from Flagstaff, Arizona, just a couple hours northeast of the Wickenburg race. He just began to venture into the UTV world earlier last year, after taking what he said was “…a while” to build his red, white and blue Polaris RZR 570. After all, it takes time to find the right car, make the proper safety modifications so parents can feel comfortable with their child racing, and of course, making it look cool, too!
JT doesn’t just get to “arrive and drive” his UTV, though. He is learning about everything that goes along with racing, from piloting, to turning wrenches on the car, performing basic maintenance, and even fabrication and modifications. He actually had to learn to build new seat brackets because of his shorter stance. It sure sounds like he’s going to have it all down pat by the time he hits the adult racing circuit.
James is a pretty typical kid, who’s very excited about getting behind the wheel, and of course, moving up in the racing world. He mentioned his ultimate goal is to get on the podium, which is pretty much the hopes of everyone in racing, isn’t it? But everyone has to start somewhere, and James is fresh on the scene, and working his way towards being at the front of the pack.
Outside of UTVs, JT told us the scariest thing he’s ever done is playing football. But it sure seems like he’s changed courses a bit, and is now hooked on off-road racing, as he’s already moved up to a two seat car. Perhaps his new car will get a re-vamp to his favorite color green, rather than his current car’s patriotic scheme. He’s hoping his new, larger car will help him out in the corners, where he’s had a little trouble, and a couple rollovers, though fortunately nothing major. After all, that’s what the roll cage is for! JT has definitely noticed that driving gets easier with more practice, so, maybe that whole “practice, practice, practice!” thing holds some truth to it…
After a race, you’ll catch James requesting a big ol’ steak for dinner, and he’ll be sure to avoid anything seafood, the mention of which makes his face curl up into an absolute “ick” face. Fortunately for him, Flagstaff is pretty far from most oceanic foods, and they know how to cook up a mean slab o’ beef out in the Arizona desert!
We can’t wait to see how James progresses in racing, and you can follow along too on his Instagram at @rainerracing225