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Nothing small about North Bend midget car racer's success

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NORTH BEND - Thomas Henry Stanford of North Bend has been racing since before he could even read.

He was 5 years old when he saw a quarter midget car (a car that is a quarter the size of a regular midget car) and wanted to get behind the wheel. He had grown up watching his dad Scott race cars in Wenatchee and he knew he liked speed, too. Although he couldn't read that the car was for sale, Thomas knew what a for sale sign looked like and started begging his parents for the next six months to get him a car. They relented and on his sixth birthday Thomas was in the driver's seat, starting a hobby that would take him all over the nation and eventually to a string of regional racing championships.

"There is some competition to it [that I like about racing]," Thomas said. "But I just really like to go fast."

Like any other sport or hobby for children, the world of midget car racing has different levels of competition and equipment that racers progress to with experience and age. Thomas started out with a Honda 120cc motor car that he raced in junior division races (ages 5-8). He has since moved up to the senior division (ages 9-16) and now races cars with Honda and DECO 160cc motors.

Like the race car community, the world of midget car racing has local, regional and national competitions. When Thomas first started racing, his family lived in Moses Lake and he and his father would make a three-hour commute to practice and race at a track near Puyallup. Now that his family is living in North Bend, Thomas can sometimes make multiple races in one weekend, traveling up and down Western Washington, Oregon and even British Columbia.

Regional and national races have taken Thomas all over the nation, including races in California, Indiana and Connecticut. After Christmas, the Stanfords and some fellow racing families loaded up a truck and trailer and went to Columbus, Ohio, to compete in a winter racing league. They'll fly back three times in the next two months. For the past two years, Thomas has been racing three different classes. Scott estimated Thomas will race about 40 weekends out of the year, totaling about 120 races.

There is an added element of danger with children racing cars that can go up to 50 mph. A lot can happen at those speeds on a track that is just one-twentieth of a mile. A Stanford family favorite memento is a shot of Thomas' car, sideways in mid-air, that a photographer took who just happened to be in the right place at the right time at a race in Connecticut. Thomas' car got a flat tire and as he was coming out of a turn, he flipped his car. It wasn't the first time he's been in a wreck and it probably won't be the last. Thomas' mom, Patty, however, is not too concerned.

"I was more scared of him playing football," she said. "It's actually a pretty safe sport."

While there is plenty of time and money waiting to be spent on Thomas' racing hobby, Patty said she appreciates the effort Thomas has put into racing. There is no free ride for Thomas, who has to do the chores and work of many other children. There is a lot of travel involved and Thomas has missed some school, but the family has made strict rules about grades. In order to get up for a race the next day, Thomas has to go to bed early.

The father-son relationship has also grown. Thomas and Scott are in constant communication on and off the track about how the cars are performing. Thomas spends a lot of time alongside his father working on cars (half the races are won in the garage, all the Stanfords said), and they both work on strategies for how to win. They have enough races behind them that they know the personalities of their fellow competitors, and which weaknesses and situations to exploit during a race to gain the upper hand.

"There is some strategy involved [in racing]," Scott said. "You have to be very focused."

It has been paying off. Thomas has steadily improved with each race and this past year marked three championships for the 10-year-old. He won the Light 160, Light MOD and Light AA races in regional competition that included participants from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. The winner of each competition gets a jacket and since Thomas has won three races, he's had three jackets made up; one for himself, his mom and his dad.

The wins were big, although one might not notice from the amount of trophies Thomas has won from racing, which cover the bottom floor of the family's home. Thomas has so many trophies that Patty has taken the placards off them as keepsakes and given the stands away.

Thomas hopes to keep on racing. He wants to cut down his heat times and place higher at the national competitions, some of which can draw more than 1,000 racers. He has enjoyed his victories, but the best race is always ahead.

There are still plenty of miles to race.

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