When it comes to nitrous oxide-assisted drag racing, Mike Thermos is considered one of the originators. He co-founded Nitrous Oxide Systems with partner Dale Vaznaian in 1978, and over the course of the next couple decades helped to establish nitrous oxide as the preferred power adder for racers ranging from local street racers to record-setting Pro Modified teams.
In fact, Thermos was instrumental in the formation of Pro Modified in the early ‘90s. By working with IHRA and various heavy-hitting nitrous-assisted doorslammer wheelmen of the time, Thermos grew NOS into a legendary brand while simultaneously supporting the advent of Pro Modified.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #157, the Interview Issue, in June of 2020.]
While Thermos sold NOS to Holley Performance Products in 1999, he’s remained involved in the industry by launching Nitrous Supply, a NOS distributor and technical support hub for NOS and custom nitrous applications.
The company has developed advanced components for effectively distributing nitrous oxide, like the exclusive “Fang II” nozzle and high-capacity, lightning-fast solenoids, but also manufactures economical kits for carbureted and EFI applications that retail for under $400.
DRAG ILLUSTRATED recently spoke to Thermos from Nitrous Supply’s Huntington Beach, California, location, for an interview ranging from the 77-year-old’s favorite racing memories to his vision for the future.
How did you get started in the performance automotive industry?
Well, we were a bunch of gearheads. Since I was 15 years old I’ve loved cars, and actually had started building hot rods and just crazy stuff all through high school. My dad used to tell me I wouldn’t amount to anything fooling around with these cars – “Go get a real education” and “You’ll be a grease monkey all your life.” That kind of thing. And I didn’t listen.
NOS was well-known for being heavily involved in IHRA Top Sportsman in the days when it eventually led to the creation of Pro Modified. What do you remember of that time?
I flew down south, to Bristol I think it was, and I started looking at some of the classes where nitrous could be legal and really help a class out. We stumbled on Top Sportsman. The Top Sportsman cars were the Robby Vandergriffs, and the Charlie Carpenters, and Bill Kuhlmann, and some of these guys that had two-year-old Pro Stock cars that didn’t want to spend the money like a true Pro Stock team, but they were having fun and they were bracket racing.
Ted Jones proposed that we sponsor a quick four shootout for the four quickest Top Sportsman cars. We did that for two or three races, then they expanded it to a quick eight shootout and John Norcia at Ram Clutches sponsored it.
And then the next year we got involved and Bret Kepner came out – he was helping IHRA at the time – and said, “Mike, will you guys support a quick-eight program? We’re going to call it Pro Modified.” I said, “Sure.” It started off, and man, it took off. And Kuhlmann went up to Darlington and ran 200 miles an hour with nitrous, and we played that up in the magazines. All of a sudden, nitrous was on the map. And we built that Pro Mod class. And we loved it. We were having a ball.
You sold NOS to Holley in 1999, then started Nitrous Supply several years later. What made you want to come back?
When my five-year do-no-compete clause ran out, I got back into it. People were asking about stuff, and they wanted nozzles and whatnot. I just started a little nitrous supply shop, selling nitrous and nozzles and fittings, and plumbing a manifold now and then.
That’s kind of where I’m at, and I’m kind of enjoying myself. I’m 77 years old. I still dig racing. I like going to the races, although I don’t go like I used to.
What’s next for you and Nitrous Supply?
I hired Charles [Myers], and he’s come in and really, really put us on the map, because we were not NOS again. We’re not trying to be NOS, but we’re trying to just be a supply house and do some of the things, and offer it at a good guy price.
I don’t know how long I’m going to keep doing this. When I wear out, I figure I’ve got a few years left. I like building new stuff, and making a better nozzle. I’m working on some different plate designs that should be revolutionary.
Nitrous Supply is sponsoring a Pro Mod Reunion celebration at the NMCA World Finals in Indianapolis in September. What’s the story behind that?
That’s going to be a big thing. Everybody’s kind of invited. We’re going to try to have maybe a barbecue, and maybe give some awards. I’m not sure yet. We haven’t ironed everything out. We’re trying to get together some of the legends like Scotty Cannon, Robby Vandergriff, Charlie Carpenter, Bill Kuhlmann – there are so many – “Animal” Jim [Feurer]. Just some of the early guys that were pioneers, that we were able to work with. And they gave us so much to learn from. We had first-class cars to work with, and we learned.