A trio of California drivers ruled practice day for the 5th Annual Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway Park. 2017 race winner Derek Thorn of Bakersfield set the fastest overall time (17.468 seconds) during Thursday's three-hour practice session, while Upper Lake driver Jeremy Doss (17.477 seconds) and Wilton native Dylan Lupton (17.505 seconds) placed themselves behind Thorn on the speed chart.
Rain showers delayed the start of the day at the Bakersfield facility, but the warm California sun dried the racing surface in plenty of time for 180 minutes of practice. After every Super Late Model rolled through technical inspection, the first green flag of the weekend was displayed around 5:45 p.m. PT.
Thorn recorded the fastest lap of the night during his fourth lap of the opening practice session. Overall, the 2018 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion made 59 laps around the fast, half-mile oval
"I feel good about it. The guys worked really hard to get us here," Thorn told Speed51.com. "I feel like our Kern package has always been pretty solid, it's just a matter of fine tuning it. We started off the day on a green race track and ended it on a rubbered-up race track. The track is going to get washed clean but it's a matter of knowing where you're at now and where you're at later, splitting hairs and trying to find out where you need to be for the race."
Doss, who has had his fair share of bad luck at the Winter Showdown in recent years, was excited about the speed he was able to find in his No. 75 Super Late Model.
"I'm actually pretty happy. This is the best car I've had here in a long time," Doss said. "I've just got to hand it off to Duane Sharp for giving me a really fast race car. Hopefully we can keep up with the race track throughout the weekend and be there at the end."
In recent years, Doss and Thorn have had their fair share of battles while battling for race wins on the west coast. One particular battle between the two drivers occurred during the 2017 Senator's Cup Fall Classic at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (NV), a race which Thorn won after a tense battle with his rival.
When asked about how they'd handle a late-race battle with $30,000 on the line, both drivers agreed that they wouldn't hold back any punches.
"It will be like Vegas all over again, like Vegas all over again," Thorn said with a smile.
"What he said I guess," Doss said with a laugh.
While seeing the names Thorn and Doss at the top of the speed chart didn't come as a surprise, Lupton's performance was less expected, especially considering he's only made one Super Late Model start since the 2015 season. Regardless, his efforts Thursday night have the former NASCAR Xfinity Series driver excited about the rest of the weekend.
"Since June when my Xfinity program finished up, I haven’t been back in the car," Lupton said. "I know the SRL series is really competitive. We were looking at chassis to buy and we found this VanDoorn, and I love it. Probably my second or third time driving it, and we’re getting better and better each run. Really looking forward to this weekend, competing up front, and hopefully winning the $30,000. Hopefully we can catch a handful of races with this series over the year."
Four-time ARCA Midwest Tour champion Ty Majeski of Seymour, Wisconsin and west coast young gun Austin Herzog completed the top five during the three-hour practice session.
Super Late Models will have two additional practice sessions Friday before qualifying at 6:30 p.m. PT. Race fans will be able to watch all of Friday and Saturday's racing from Kern County by becoming a Speed51 Network premium (monthly or yearly) subscriber. To purchase your subscription today, click here.
Photos and additional updates from Thursday's practice can be found in Speed51's Race Day Now coverage.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor - Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / Kyler Hope