Tristin Thomas, 14, doesn't have to think too hard about which driver at Deming Speedway he tries to emulate most.
"Definitely my dad," Tristin said of his father, J.R. Thomas, who stepped away from racing his own car at Deming last summer so that he could focus on being the crew chief for his son's car. "I like being compared to him. Some people say they can see similar driving styles and how we each work the track. I like that. My dad always put on a big show for the fans, and I just try to imitate what he would do. He was a real crowd pleaser."
And J.R. can see a lot of that in his son, as well.
From the way that he rim-rides as close to the fence as "only a handful of guys at Deming can do and go fast," including his old man, to his hard-charging spirit, and of course, his love for the sport.
"I definitely see a lot of myself in him," J.R. said in a phone interview.
J.R. will be watching Tristin closely, once again, when the 2013 dirt-track sprint racing season opens Friday, April 5, at the one-sixth-mile clay bullring just off the Mount Baker Highway in Deming.
Friday marks the first of 26 scheduled dates - weather permitting - between now and the Sept. 21 Season Championships. Highlighting the summer schedule, as usual, will be the three-night Clay Cup Nationals, scheduled for July 18-20.
It was after Clay Cup last summer that J.R. really saw his son start to take off after moving up to the 600 Restricted class in 2012.
"We invested in a new shock package and some new wings and some better equipment, and I think he matured a little bit midway through the season," J.R. said. "There about mid July, he came on strong - like a bullet."
During one stretch during the second half of the season, Tristin had the fast time in qualifying three out of four weeks. He even picked up a handful of feature wins late in the season, as he closed to within 98 points of Austin Sheridan for the 600 Restricted points title.
Make no doubt about it, the Thomas family has their eyes fixed on claiming that championship this summer.
"We really want to win it this year," Tristin said. "Our goals this season are to get the championship in the restricted class and then go down to California and try to win the California Cup in Lemoore and the Super 600 in Visalia."
Winning season point titles is nothing new in the Thomas household.
J.R. grabbed the first of his two titles in Deming's 600 open class in 2009.
He followed it up a year later with a repeat win - one that was particularly special, considering Tristin joined him by winning his first points title during his rookie season in the Kasey Kahne Junior Sprints.
In fact, the duo were put into the Fox Sports Hall of Fame for being the first father-son duo to win season championships in the same season at the same track in American motorsports history.
And to cap it off, both won their respective feature event on championship night, meaning they got to park next to each other on the front stretch and share the trophy stage.
"That was probably one of the most emotional nights of my racing career," J.R. said. "There is probably nothing in my life that has topped that night. It was pretty incredible. To win the championship and win the main event, we're both sitting there on the front straightaway, and I think about half the stands came down on the track to congratulate us, and we had a ton of family there. Just an incredible feeling."
Unfortunately, they were not able to duplicate the feat in 2011, as J.R. said he suffered through a "frustrating year" with a number of equipment failures, and he decided to give up his seat to focus on helping Tristin when he made the jump up to 600 Restricted last year.
"It's a lot of fun - I can try stuff on his car that I was afraid to try on my own car," J.R. said. "It allows me a chance to experiment. I've learned a whole lot."
And so has Tristin.
The eighth grader at Burlington's Lucille Umbarger Elementary School said he values the one-on-one instruction he's been able to get from his father/crew chief.
"He gives me a lot of little stuff here and there," Tristin said. "I come in after the race and he'll tell me how I did and ask me how the car was and just give me these little driving tips."
Those little tips are definitely starting to pay off, in his father's eyes - though he's like most any other teenager.
"He usually tries things his own way, and then he tries them mine and finds out that my way works better," J.R. joked. "But he's come a long, long ways. When we got into it, I never expected him to pick it up this fast. For him to come out his first year in junior sprints and win it, that was pretty amazing. I was thinking he could go top five. But to win right away? That was amazing."
But it shouldn't be all that unexpected.
Tristin has been coming to the track since he was 1.
He started racing quads on Monroe's flat track when he was 3 and moved up to quarter midgets at Skagit Speedway when he was 4, all in preparation for his rookie season at Deming when he was 11.
Now he's driving a car sponsored by mytrafficman.net that got some big help from legendary California race team Duinkerken Farms with its motor.
His father, on the other hand, didn't get bit by the racing bug until he was 25.
Even though there is nowhere else he would rather be than working with his son, J.R. said he still feels the desire to strap in again.
"Every time the cars are on the track, I want to be out there mixing it up," he said. "But it gives me a good feeling to work on Tristin's car and watch him go fast. It's almost as good as being out there myself."
Though he has no plans to race this summer, J.R. said he would consider returning to the track if the right opportunity came along.
But for right now, he's happy in the second-best seat in the house - watching his son chase a second series points title in four years.
"Who knows?" J.R. said. "He might end up being better than I was. It's a good feeling right now watching him go fast and filling in my shoes."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
2013 RACE SEASON
When: Most Friday nights from April 5 through Sept. 21
Gates open: 5 p.m.
Racing starts: 7 p.m.
Single-race tickets: Adults $11, Juniors (8-17) and Seniors (65 and older) $9
Season tickets: Adults $264, Juniors and Seniors $216
Season highlights: Fireworks Show (July 5), Clay Cup Nationals (July 18-20), Season Championships (Sept. 21)
More information: demingspeedway.com
1,200s: Liam Ryan
600s: Derek Torkelson
600 Restricted: Austin Sheridan
Kasey Kahne Junior Sprints: Jesse Schlotfeldt
Team sponsor corrected to mytrafficman.com
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.