While we are waiting for the resumption of Trans Am racing, the industry still has a way to go before battle on the track is rejoined so we took the chance to catch up with the 2019 Trans Am TA2 class iron man Tom Sheehan to learn more about his unique road from high school athlete to the rigors and fierce competition of motorsport.
“I spent my youth playing sports,” relates Sheehan, driver of the No. 97 LTK Ford Mustang. “I liked to play sports rather than watch them. I became internally wired to believe I could compete with anyone. The only challenge to success was applying yourself.”
Everyone’s path to the Trans Am grid is different and having missed out on a possible career in football, Sheehan has since had to work his way up to where he is now the hard way. “I started on the bottom, a college flunk out, so I returned to working in industrial construction in the insulation and refractory trades. Being a racing driver was not on the radar! Not a lack of interest but certainly a lack of opportunity, time and resources.”
Those three bugbears have hindered many a nascent driver’s career and with no history of racing in his family, it took a chance encounter to first spark as he explains: “My only link was a trophy at my childhood buddy’s house. It was an Oxford Plains Speedway trophy. I always asked my friend about it and he said his dad used to race but mom made him give it up after the start of the family, nine kids! When I asked his dad about it his face would light up, he’d stop what he was doing and tell me how much fun he used to have and how he missed it.”
For Tom, the road then took in marriage and a move from his home state of Maine to New Hampshire.
“My existence was my job. I wanted something new in my life to challenge me. I met people who explained how they took their sports cars to racetracks and drove on the track. They had that same look as my friend’s dad. They found great joy. My wife encouraged me to participate so I just needed a car. That was 2002. I went to an SCCA racing school in 2006 and I was hooked.”
The driver of the LTK Insulation Technologies Ford Mustang adds, “My racing heroes have always been the people that find a way. This is a tough sport. It’s an expensive hobby and a monumentally difficult career path. I have witnessed the best and the worst in people. In racing, by and large the heart of the racer is what stands out. Drivers come and go, but racers, they find a way.”
Having competed in Grand Am, GT and at club and national level, TA2 was a fledgling class when Tom first got behind the wheel, with driver and class developing simultaneously. Sheehan relates the experience of wielding a Trans Am car this way: “Driving a TA2 car is much more visceral compared to the others I’ve raced. The physical demands are pretty real, and the competition level is next-level. I have had the privilege of developing my skills among fantastic talent and resources have been neutralized as much as is possible in our sport. If you are fortunate enough to win a TA2 race you’ve really accomplished something.”
When it comes to speed and fast lap times, Sheehan feels TA2 is no different than anything else, “If you want to be good you need to master the basic skills. If you want to be better than good you have to blend them and extract the nuances. If you want to be great you have to expand boundaries and test limits at every opportunity. To accomplish that you must believe…more important than skill, belief follows the exact same path; master basics, blend, and test boundaries. That’s what it takes — full commitment.”
Two people stand out in the pantheon of Tom’s racing heroes — Jamie Aube and Mike Cope — and he’s lucky enough to be working with them. “Jamie is a racer. He will find a way. Jamie makes my racing possible. I couldn’t race without his effort, his experience and commitment.”
“Racing isn’t easy. In order to make it happen so much has to happen first. In the development of TA2 as a class and its ever forward advance as a platform, much of the credit belongs to Mike Cope. Mike is like Jamie, a racer. Mike, Travis and Jason are Mike Cope Racing. That’s a force of knowledge. Those guys make it happen.”
“I haven’t always been in Cope equipment. But I have always been watching and learning from Mike Cope and his organization. Mike has elevated the TA2 platform. If you like what you see, thank Mike Cope. Competition brings out the best.”
Of the season to come, Tom is decidedly upbeat and knows exactly who to thank when success arrives. “When it all comes together for my team, and it will, Jamie and I will have Mike Cope Racing to thank,” he says. “I thank them for the support Mike and his family have given to my team, even in the tough results we have been dealt as of late. I am motivated to fight hard to earn an opportunity to brag on my team and Mike Cope. Racers find a way.”
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli is currently scheduled to resume the 2020 Championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, June 21.