A well-kept secret was unveiled this week in the off-road world when King of the Hammers’ principal champion Dave Cole added Ryan Thomas to his management ranks as the new president of Ultra4 Racing.
Thomas, whose pedigree in desert racing runs as deep as they come, is making the transition from his former role as Director of Product Sales for Jackson Motorsports Group, primarily known in the off-road world as the agency of record for both the BFGoodrich and Michelin brand’s motorsports activation and support efforts. The son of the late Chenowth Racing Products owner Mike Thomas, Ryan has won championships as a driver, knows the inside of off-road fabrication and managed both his family business and Wide Open Baja’s southern division. While admittedly new to the Ultra4 subculture, his organic, non-corporate minded approach to business, coupled with a steady, easygoing manner, adds a new dimension to Cole’s sometimes capricious style of management.
“The move is the next step in the evolution of Ultra4 Racing and King of the Hammers in the mission to be better aligned and poised for growth and continuity,” Cole stated. “Ryan’s leadership and teamwork, coupled with his entrepreneurial approach, made him the number one choice to lead us into the next phase of our evolution.”
With Race Director J.T. Taylor, Marketing and Communications Manager Alan Johnson, world-class sponsorship management from Travis Clarke and the Wasserman Media Group and a strong supporting cast of top-flight consultants and contractors, the Ultra4 Racing group is one of the sport’s strongest promotional entities. With Thomas, Cole’s decision to add more horsepower to his everyday operation is a bold one, but also a move clearly created to make his enterprise that much stronger. RACER.com spoke to the new Ultra4 president on his outlook, new job and the future.
MARTY FIOLKA: Ryan, this week’s announcement came as a surprise to many in the off-road world. From your perspective, what has been the immediate reaction?
RYAN THOMAS: It has been super encouraging to hear people championing the fact that Dave has hired me to join Ultra4. It’s an honor. All things in my life have pointed to an opportunity like this, and I don’t mean to say that in an arrogant way. It was a logical progression and a logical decision to make. I can tell you I have way more Instagram and Facebook followers than I had a week ago (laughs).
MF: Is there anything specific that strikes you about the Ultra4 community?
RT: It’s a relatively new sport that is growing, but the cool thing to me is that the racers are still under their cars working on them. Yes, it’s big, it has a big stage with King of the Hammers, and big businesses are looking at it, but the magic is that it still made up of real authentic people living the lifestyle.
MF: That’s true, but the Ultra4 community is a different sub-culture than the one you come from isn’t it?
RT: You’re right about that. Let’s face it, there is straightforward desert racing that we are all aware of. Yes, it is similar because we compete in the dirt and are building cars that are made to traverse radical terrain. But, it’s also dramatically different than today’s desert racing in many ways – and, the people are as well.
MF: With that said, how steep to you expect the learning curve to be, especially with the 2020 King of the Hammer being so soon?
RT: Well, Dave Cole is an incredibly intelligent man who has built a successful business. He certainly doesn’t expect me to come in a month before their biggest show, but I have certain roles to fill in helping our great staff make King of the Hammers even better. This year represents an ideal opportunity to learn from an authentic group of people. I am excited about working with authentic, passionate people. But it all starts from the top. Dave’s passion for all of it is so tangible. The bottom line is that I can’t fake that I have been involved with this specific segment of the sport, but I have a lot of experience turning dirt into dust and can identify with people like that.
MF: In your mind, where does the sport fit into today’s larger automotive or motorsports picture?
RT: To start with, Ultra4’s racer base is global, not national. In his concluding speech to the automotive industry at the recent SEMA show, the organization’s president (Chris Kersting) specifically mentioned Dave and Ultra4 as the future of off-roading. That really kind of says it all. I’m stoked to be part of something in the early stages of growth and feel I can add a lot of value to our current position.
MF: Why do you feel so confident in that?
RT: It frankly comes from having broader perspective. I have been the racer. I have been involved with land use. I have been involved with fabrication, sponsorship and also media production. All of those things really apply to this opportunity, and it’s truly exciting to bring all of it together.
MF: In your mind, what will take this to the next plateau in terms of a business and sport?
RT: Honestly, I feel like making any kind of statement like that is a bit premature. I need to go drink from the firehose for a few months before I can answer that question with any sense of legitimacy. It would be incorrect for me to have a clear vision for the future when I haven’t completely lived it. Certainly, immersing myself in King of the Hammers won’t be drinking from a garden hose that’s for sure.