Dare to Dream: Milestone resident William ‘Keith’ Thomas looks back on racing days
Courtesy of Milestone Senior Living
TOMAHAWK – On July 30, 1930, William “Keith” Thomas was born to Wilda and John Thomas in Platteville, Wis. He was their only child, born during the Great Depression.
Keith lost his mom in 1943, and that’s about when it all started. He began riding bicycle before upgrading to a “Whizzer,” a bike that had a small motor. He stated he got into trouble with it, as he kept falling on it. In the summer, they laid pea gravel on the blacktop, which was like “riding on marbles.” In 1945, Keith started riding motorcycle.
“They were hard on me. When I fell over, I had a hard time picking them up,” Keith stated.
He was asked if he thought he had nine lives. His response was, “Wait, I’m just getting started,” as he was smiling big.
After graduating from high school, Keith moved to Madison. In 1944, he learned to fly and got his pilot’s license, as his dad thought aviation was going to take off. Later, Keith was sent on a bus to MKE to serve in the military, but was sent back ’4F,’ which means unfit for military duty, as he had broken his leg prior to that.
The Korean War started in 1950, and his friend was drafted. This friend gave Keith his old “Midget” car, which is what sparked his interest in racing. He soon began tinkering with it, and when his friend returned home from the service, the friend continued to work on the car, as he was a great machinist. The two of them soon met Vance Moore, who was willing to sponsor Keith.
Keith said Moore had plenty of money, noting, “He drove a Hudson and owned many grocery stores.”
Keith’s racing career began in 1951, when he started racing at Sun Prairie Racetrack. In the years that followed, he raced all over, including in Wisconsin, Illinois, New Jersey, Canada and the Dakotas.
Keith first met his wife, Janice, when he was the manager at a filling station, and he did the business banking where she was a teller. They later met again at the racetrack. They married in 1954 and had two sons. Keith said his wife and family supported his racing because he made more money racing in the summer, but neither of his sons followed in his love of racing cars.
He attended an annual convention, where racers registered for numerous fair dates. These races were only one lap and could be dangerous. Keith recalled that he made $900 in one day of racing, which would be thousands of dollars today.
DECO Co. sponsored Keith from 1959 to 1972. When his career ended, he sold his car, saying it was a good decision at the time. He noted that he has enough trophies and pictures to fill a room.
In 1973, both Keith and his wife moved to Tomahawk on Deer Lake. He purchased property where he built and owned Northland Stainless Steel Corporation.
Keith stated money and ambition are what kept him motivated.
Following a Daytona 500 favorite meal of pulled pork and coleslaw on Feb. 14, Keith enjoyed telling his racing story at Milestone. Although Keith never raced in the Daytona 500, he has been there in person numerous times, he noted.
Prior to the NASACAR race, Milestone residents and staff had a celebration and their own race. Keith was excited to reminisce and share his experiences of racing with his community of friends at Milestone Senior Living.