Through the frustration that is the year 2020, one race team that has made the most of it has been that of Campbell Motorsports and champion driver Derek Thorn. The California native dominating the competition in the West seemed to carry that momentum to the Southeast in early November only to end up in a shower of sparks.
Dominating the early stages of the Super Late Model feature of the All American 400 on November 1 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, contact with Carson Hocevar to Thorn’s right-rear corner sent the No. 43 backwards, and smashing into the outside wall.
After showing such speed in Tennessee, Thorn is extra eager to make the annual December pilgrimage to the Florida Panhandle for the biggest Late Model show of them all, the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby.
“We’re optimistic, we feel like we’ve had a solid year at Campbell Motorsports. The Tour we’ve always had good luck with, but I feel like we’ve had great speed elsewhere, and to have Nashville go as well as did with speed was promising. Obviously, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but Byron Campbell has given us a great chance and awesome team. Mike Keene does an awesome job on these cars,” Thorn told Speed51.
However, Thorn has already taken the opportunity to get his mojo back closer to home. Against the largest field of the season on the SRL Southwest Tour inside The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he took Campbell Motorsports to an impressive seventh SRL victory in 2020. In addition to the large payday, Thorn also secured his fifth career SRL Southwest Tour championship, even with one more race remaining on December 19 at Irwindale Speedway.
“That was seven of eight for us this year, Vegas in the past always seems to have had bad luck on our side. So, to be able to win that event before the Derby and lock up the championship, it helps give the team a confidence boost. That event is one of the big ones for us, to cap it off with a sweet slot machine and 10,000 bucks is a really good thing.”
Still hunting his first Snowball Derby triumph at Five Flags Speedway, Thorn will return to Pensacola as the reigning Allen Turner Snowflake 100 winner. The victory in the Pro Late Model major is one that Thorn will always think back on fondly.
“It’s been cool, to finally win a race on that weekend, with that caliber of drivers is a surreal feeling. The place has so much history, Snowball Derby weekend is the marquee event for Late Model racing, it’s our Daytona Speedweeks. To bring home the win in the Snowflake was a great accomplishment for our team.”
Despite checking the Snowflake 100 off the old bucket list, Thorn and the No. 43 camp are going back to repeat. But, there will be no margin for error should trouble befall their Pro Late Model effort in the two and a half day lead up to the race on Saturday night, December 5.
“We are, but we only have one Pro Late, then a primary and backup for the Super. So, if something happens to the Pro in practice or qualifying that’s it. But, as of right now the plan is to go back there with two cars, put our best foot forward, and see where we end up.”
That said, there is an even greater effort to keep the primary Super Late Model unscathed even with the backup. Even with three days of practice leading up to the 300-lap Snowball Derby on Sunday, December 6; there is the infamous Friday night qualifying session sandwiched right in there. A qualifying session that demands a flawlessly fast and stable racecar.
“The Derby is a one day at a time kind of event, you can be good on Thursday and be chasing your tail on Friday with how the weather changes down there. We’ll go back, try to make the most of each day and have some speed when it counts. Get through practice unscathed, there’s a lot of cars going on and off track. Qualifying all the nerves that go along with that, it’s a stressful day, it’s the most stressful day of the year as racecar driver.”
As for the ‘big dance’ itself, Thorn is confident he’ll have the car to contend. After that, it’s all about survival.
“Saturday, you got a lot with final practice, then qualifying and the race with the Pro Late; there’s a lot to keep us occupied. But, as soon as that race starts you just kind of have to try to survive. Make sure your car is good at the end. All you can hope for towards the end is that you have a shot at it. To bring the Tom Dawson trophy out West, I don’t think anybody’s done that yet. It’s one of those things you don’t think about much. But, to do it would be an awesome feat for our team.”
More information on the Snowball Derby, including the most up-to-date entry lists, can be found by visiting Snowball Central on Speed51.com.
Race fans unable to make it to Pensacola, Florida on December 2-6, will be able to watch the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby on Speed51.TV. Video tickets can be purchased now by clicking here.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51/Ryan Nuttleman