When it comes to Super Late Model drivers and teams hailing from the west coast, Derek Thorn and the Campbell Motorsports No. 43 team have established themselves as one of the best this decade. Now, with the decade coming to an end, the dynamic duo is hungry to score their biggest win at the Snowball Derby and take the prestigious Tom Dawson Trophy back to the state of California.
Each year, the team has made the trip to Pensacola, Florida’s Five Flags Speedway after a fierce amount of preparation. However, preparation has proven to only get them so far. In 2019, they’ll be looking for lady luck to cut them a break during the race weekend of December 5-8.
“If only we can predict the future, right? We can only hope,” Thorn said. “Mike Keene has been working hard in the shop, and we’re going to have to be ready for whatever happens. The Derby is a race that we start prepping for the middle of the year. We put a lot of thought, time, and energy into a lot of different things. Hopefully when the time comes we got the luck and the speed to go with it.”
Thorn believes that the No. 43 camp has already experienced a good omen, winning the SRL Southwest Tour 2019 season finale at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway a week ago. Like the Derby, that was previously a race that seemed to elude his grasp, even in past years when he had clinched his four SRL titles.
“We’ve always run good at Vegas, but for some reason that final race of the season has always eluded us. We’d come into that race like four times with a shot at the championship, we’d win the championship, but for whatever we were always snake bit trying to win the race. To finally do it and with the Snowball Derby coming up, winning always gives a team confidence and momentum. Hopefully we can take that straight into Pensacola.”
In 2018, Campbell Motorsports also brought a Pro Late Model to the Florida Panhandle for a try at winning the Snowflake 100 in addition to their usual Super Late Model/Snowball Derby turnout. While a seven-day delay due to rain negated their Snowflake shot, Thorn still managed to log plenty of practice laps. Despite learning plenty with both racecars, Thorn believes that all that goes out the window for the most part, year after year.
“There’s never a clear answer of what it takes to race Pensacola, especially with two cars. Last year, we didn’t get a chance to race our Pro Late Model with the rain out, so we don’t have a notebook to go off of for the race. Our Super was a whole different car in itself to now. It’s one of those things where the notes seem to fluctuate, a lot of those guys have run a handful of times this season, so it’s always a game of playing catch up. It’s a tire we’re not used to and a track we only run once a year; it’s a lot to get up to speed with.”
One thing that Thorn will not have to worry about, along with the rest of the Super Late Model entries, is preparing for live pit stops during the 300-lap Snowball Derby. In an effort to save teams money, rather than hiring professional pit crews, controlled pit stops will be implemented on the December 8 race day. Thorn is one of those open to the idea, also believing that it may further enhance the on-track product.
“In racing, I’m always a fan of trying things. It is a divided topic, but hopefully it just goes smoothly and it is a success for everyone at Five Flags; they do a good job at running the race. It’s a good way to save us money. We’re a sport of entertainment, I’m sure the fans will still get a good race on the track to watch. We’ll have some more teams and it will be a great race.”
Ambitiously, Thorn’s expectations are the same as his goals: winning both races. He feels that he has the crew, the equipment and the method to pull it off.
They go hand in hand. I say it every year, you just got to get through the Derby a day at a time. It starts about a week ahead of time for us, and we got a lot of things to work on. You can’t put the horse before the cart. We got to have the speed, and once you have it you got to have the luck. We’ll take it as it comes and hope things pan out the way we want.”
Race fans looking to make the pilgrimage to Pensacola for the Snowball Derby can order tickets for the event now at 5flagsspeedway.com.
Thanks to Speed51’s Black Friday sale, you can now also purchase a four-day video ticket for the Snowball Derby for $79.99 and receive a free three-month subscription to the Speed51 Network. Click here to take advantage of this sale now.
Individual video tickets can be purchased now at the regular price by clicking here.
For more information on the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby, visit Speed51’s Snowball Central.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51Photos.com