James Wheeler wasn’t planning to compete at the NASA Championships until he received some encouragement from his wife. Good thing Wheeler listened, because he now has some new hardware for the house.
“My wife made me race. She encouraged me, so this is for her,” Wheeler said. “I started to build a bit of a gap and then we had the safety car that brought us all back together and I’m like, ‘No I worked so hard for that,’ and as we started going again it took ages for the heat to get into the tires.” On the last lap, I almost lost it. I had almost a full turn of opposite lock on braking trying to turn right and I was just screaming at myself inside the helmet, but I managed to stay together.”
Wheeler won a thrilling Thunder Roadster race where the top four drivers finished within 4.8 seconds of one another. If Wheeler’s lime-green car looks familiar, it should. It’s the same car Gary Tinker drove to the Thunder Roadster Championship in 2018 at Circuit of The Americas.
Jason Oehler, who finished third last year at COTA, pushed Wheeler hard, and he had the lead for the first lap. Once Wheeler got around Oehler, Brian Bohlander and Gary Tinker were charging hard just behind him. The two leaders worked together to gap the field, but when the yellows came out, all their cooperation evaporated.
“It was absolutely nose-to-tail, hardcore, the entire time and it was fun. It was so much fun,” Oehler said. “James had a bit for me in the fast corners. I was quicker in the slow corners. We worked together to get a gap. The yellow in the middle bunched us back together. I had a chance to get around him. I made one single mistake. He made me pay for it.”
2018 Thunder Roadster Champion Tinker got around Bohlander and held that position till the end. Bohlander had an incident late in the race that tore up the side of his car and knocked him out of contention.
“The traffic was actually pretty good out there. We got through them pretty quick and they were courteous,” Tinker said. “Congrats to new guy here, a pretty good show for a rookie. Looks like he had a pretty good piece. It’s the winning car from last year that I drove, and I set it up for him and he’s a pretty good wheel man. So this is his home track. He deserves the win.”