By Phil Whipple
Staff Writer, RaceOnTexas.com. Photo By: Ron Skinner
BAYTOWN, Texas — For nearly every short track racer in just about any division, a rough season can be devastating. Poor finishes, blown engines, cut tires, you name it – together, bad luck and mechanical gremlins can just downright take all the fun out of this sport.
For 24-year-old second generation racer Thomas Downey Jr., the 2019 season was one he'd like to forget. The talented driver and Baytown resident competes in the Factory Stock class at 105 Speedway in Cleveland, Texas. This year, with a brand new baby at home and a great attitude, life is pretty good.
“We just brought our son home today,” beamed the proud new father on Tuesday evening. “I'm excited about my racing program for this season, for sure, but this is a life-changer. I'm in a trance holding him tonight, but after a while, we'll turn our thoughts back to the race car.”
Downey's dismal 2019 campaign saw roughly 10 races, yet he only finished three features. Each of those were solid runs, but the overall results for the season just weren't what they were after.
“The biggest hurdle I faced last year was I was driving home from working in Oklahoma all week to race on the weekends,” Downey said. “I just never had much time to work on the car, and it showed. When you're only home to see your family for 48 hours, it doesn't leave much room for the race car.”
Thus far in 2020, he's only competed in one race back in February. Last Saturday, the plan was to race, yet that new son was just about ready to enter the world. Sometimes, you see, life comes calling.
“When I got the call they were going to induce labor, I knew I wouldn't be headed to the speedway,” Downey said. “The way I feel tonight holding our son, a missed night of racing isn't a problem. I had bigger priorities last weekend, and I'm one happy Dad. There will be time for racing shortly.”
One major advantage Downey Jr. (his friends call him Tj) has is a walking database of knowledge who is always available. As a longtime veteran of the ovals, Thomas Downey Sr. has been there, done that. While Tj himself has raced for 11 years, it's his father who brings decades of experience to the team.
“My Dad has raced for 30 years and is a huge help to me with his skills and amazing knowledge,” Downey Jr. added. “He can just look at the car in the shop and tell me what I need to be doing. I'm blessed to have him guiding me, and appreciate all he has taught me more than he'll ever realize.”
That lone race back in February was in a different car, yet the outcome was more than respectable.
“Our car wasn't quite ready, so I hopped into one owned by Jason McCool for that race,” Downey explained. “We had to throw it together in about three days, but we managed to drive it from a 12th starting spot up fourth in the feature. It was a good night for us.”
For this year, Downey is excited about the support he gets from the man who sponsors his team and owns the car his father will drive. It's a win-win relationship that allows him and his Dad to have fun.
“I'm lucky to have Jason supporting this race team,” he added. “He pays a lot of the bills on this team even though I own the car. I appreciate his support so very much, I just couldn't do this deal alone.”
As for the environment at 105 Speedway, Downey says the place is well-run and loaded with talent across the board.
“I think some of the best stock car drivers in the greater Houston area come from 105 Speedway,” he said. “You've got Dalton Faulkner, Dylan Elasko, the Seals brothers, Phillip and Daniel, they all race at 105 on a weekly basis. If you can run with them, you can pretty much make any show and do well. They're some of the best in the Ark-La-Tex area.”
That depth of talent at Downey's home track means he better be sharp when that green flag waves.
“You definitely have to be on top of your game every week,” he explained. “These guys, they live and breathe racing. In most of these small towns in south Texas and Louisiana, they work all week to be able to go racing on the weekends. They have a ton of fun doing it, but they also take it very seriously.”
Downey says if you're a small-town racer and can accomplish a lot on the ovals, your name gets out.
“If you're one of us who can take an older car and not much money and still win against the high-dollar cars, you're a star around these parts. If you're like me and guys like Gw Hessong, we don't have big money or modern chassis. I've got an old Pure Stock we converted over for this class, but it's all good.”
Along with his legendary and experienced father to help out, Downey has a few other key folks who keep his race team moving forward.
“I'd have to say having Jason McCool involved is huge, and we have Owens Racing Engines doing our motors for us. Those guys, along with Steve Dixon and Donnie Schubert, they get us pretty spot-on before we unload. Having guys like them really help my learning curve and make me better prepared.
“I'm also very blessed to have the support of my beautiful wife, Savannah. She does a lot for me and I love her for it. We're both proud new parents and I'm a very lucky family man these days.”
Along with those talented and skilled friends to guide him, Downey also has a few valued sponsors who make his program more competitive.
“I have to thank FCA Motorsports, Window Pros of Texas, Coast-to-Coast Septic Pumping, Supreme Graphics, Bad Fast Racing and Dixon Racing. Those folks are why we get to keep racing every year.”
With that beautiful son now at home and a chance to refocus, the goals now are claer for Downey.
“I would sure like to finish a lot more races than we did in the past,” he said. “I really want to go out there and win three or four features. If we can get everything to go our way, I know we can rack up some wins. We'll give it our best shot and see how it all plays out.”