Being from Michigan I can’t help but get excited when I see a Mustang. It’s kind of where they’re from. I wasn’t going to miss the chance to get to know Fox Body #266.
It was Friday morning, just a couple of hours before the Ojibwe Forests Rally started. The crew were busy around the car. I wanted to know everything about it. It looked awesome. My questions kept on coming. I asked if the driver was around…
Right on cue, a head popped out from under the car with the biggest smile I ever saw.
That was when I met Neil Thomas for the first time.
He told me everything about the engine, the turbo, the whole thing. What an amazing guy. He was so busy, but so happy to share the story of him building this car, realizing his dream of driving stage.
Ojibwe was his first ever rally.
I popped a picture for DirtFish Live Center, thumbs up and that giant smile still beaming up.
At the end of the first day, Neil asked me for a copy of the picture – telling me about how important the North Star Rally Alliance had been in getting him and other people to the event. This is a group of enthusiasts based out of Minnesota, the Midwest and basically they’re likeminded people who want to do everything they can to get people into the sport.
Neil fitted right in with them. He was so enthusiastic to get more people involved in rallying.
We kept up with Neil and his progress through the event and Colin [Clark] and I were so happy to see him at the end of the final stage. Again, for me, really cool to see the Mustang there at the end.
Nothing really prepared Colin or I for the interview we got with Neil.
He’d worked so hard to get to the start of Ojibwe, he talked of the hours he’d put in to getting the car ready in the weeks leading up to the start. And here he was at the finish. The emotion was incredible.
You don’t often see that kind of emotion and passion. Honestly, it was an absolute privilege to talk to Neil and to have him open up to us like that. We kept the camera on him and he was able to really express his feelings in the most incredible way. That interview connected with so many people.
Getting into this sport is hard, but the camaraderie, the sense of belonging and the reward you get from driving the car you’ve spent so long building is what gets you through the all-nighters building engines or fitting transmissions.
That was the raw emotion we saw from Neil. That was what this sport meant to him.
To be able to share that moment with him was something neither Colin or I would ever forget.
I didn’t know Neil for a long time, but he made such an impression on us all
He was truly someone special, not least for how he managed a double handshake when Colin and I wanted to show our appreciation for him after the interview.
His second rally was LSPR and, again, we chatted with him and kept in touch with his event. When he didn’t make the finish, he came and found us on foot and talked with so much enthusiasm and excitement about his rally.
What a guy.
I’m gutted, to be honest. Completely gutted. Saturday’s news is just terrible. It’s hard to take for the sport, but so much harder for his family and all his friends across the sport. My heart goes out to them all.
I didn’t know Neil for a long time, but he made such an impression on us all here at DirtFish. He was the kind of guy who brings so much love to the family of rally. He was absolutely the best representation of everything that’s great about this sport in America.
He will be missed terribly, but what an honor and a privilege to be able to say I knew him.
Rest easy, Neil.