Derek Thorn holds most of the important records in the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series. This past November, Thorn added another one to his resume. The Lakeport, CA driver registered his record-tying third championship, putting him on par with Jim Pettit II in that category. The championship will go a long way in establishing Thorn as one of the most successful Super Late Model competitors in the country.
Thorn began racing in the SRL in 2010. Since that time, he has accumulated 29 wins, and 39 fast times in 65 career starts. He was the 2012 and 2014 series champion, while sandwiching in a 2013 NASCAR K&N West Series Championship. His 2016 championship effort concluded with five wins, seven top five and eight top-10 finishes. He set two new track records, while setting quick time on five different occasions. His 319 laps led also set the standard for the series over the nine-race schedule.
This championship was the eighth of Thorn’s still young career. Each of those championships was special in their own way, but this one had its own set of unique challenges, that will set it apart.
“Every championship is different and has its own set hurdles and challenges throughout the year,” Thorn told Speed51.com. “The thing that stands out about this one is the amount of work it took. With the new straight rail program that the SRL allows, it took a lot of additional work trying to get our equipment competitive with rules that the SRL set forth for us to follow. This year it has just been a testament to the team, which Byron and Carol Campbell have put together. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes, to allow you to run for a championship, and I am so thankful to them for putting everything together, which allowed us to compete for that championship.”
Thorn’s 2013 K&N West championship saw him compete for the championship with a teammate. In 2016, for the first time in his SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series career, Thorn also had a teammate. Carlos Vieira finished seventh in the championship standings, but played a large role in the overall success of the Campbell Motorsports Team. It is a detail not lost on Thorn.
“I feel like we (Campbell Motorsports) brought a lot to the table with the merger of the teams, in terms of people, car preparation, organization and our crew chief Mike Keen,” he stated. “And Carlos really brought a lot to us off of the track. Being partnered up with the Carlos Vieira Foundation, 51 FIFTY Energy Drink and the Race for Autism Campaign opened up a lot of good things. I feel like he complimented us, and we complimented him, and a lot of good things were brought to the track.”
As for the team’s success, Thorn feels that there is no one single element that brought them success, but a combination of things that brought the whole effort together.
“There are too many layers of this team to just point to one area for success,” he stated. “It all starts at the top with Byron and Carol Campbell, and then to Crew Chief Mike Keen, and then the great group of people and crew that they have assembled. We all need each other to be able to run competitively and compete for championships and wins. It’s like a three-legged barstool, you need all the parts and layers to be successful, and it all goes hand in hand.”
Thorn credits much of his recent championship success to his current car owner Byron Campbell. Thorn’s early career in Super Late Models found him in victory lane often, but falling just short of championships, due to his sometimes-aggressive driving style. The once diamond in the rough has now fully matured into a confident and mature driver who has learned to compete for both.
“I felt like everything I drove before Byron was year to year.” Thorn began. “I drove every lap like I had something to prove or someone to impress. Once I got behind the wheel for Byron, and started working with Mike (Keen) as crew chief, it gave me a sense of security to see a few years down the road. They opened my eyes to being a smarter racer.”
As Derek looks back over the success he has had over his career, he gives tribute to his parents Rick and Carol Thorn for being the biggest inspiration in his life.
“At such a young age, for them to support me through the early years of racing, for all the sacrifices they had to make, and the work ethic that they taught me and what racing teaches you outside the track, they are the ones who started that,” he said of his parents “From a work ethics standpoint, they instilled in me the competitive edge you need to have, showed me the hours you need to spend to be successful, and the people and relationships you need as well. I am extremely proud and humbled to have such great parents that allowed me to get my career started in racing.”
Even though Thorn hasn’t made it to the pinnacle of NASCAR, he is extremely happy with where he is in racing right now. Away from the bright lights of NASCAR, he has found an abundance of success in the short track racing wars.
“To be honest, I couldn’t be happier with where I am out. If I was to look at myself from when I was eight or ten years old, I think I would be extremely happy, satisfied and grateful with all the opportunities and success I have had.” Thorn commented. “I am especially happy here at Campbell Motorsports, as we are a family. They have given me the opportunity to do what I love, to be able to make a living and enjoy short track racing. I think my heart is in short track racing, right where I am at. There is no way I could have any more fun, and enjoy where I am at right now, than with the people I am racing with now.”
Looking into the future, Thorn sees himself continuing on with the Campbell Motorsports Team.
“As for next year, it’s entirely up to Byron and Carol Campbell and what their future plans in racing are. I am happy continuing to do what we are doing,” he said. “I think it all depends on the off-season, when we go through the schedule and determine what races we want to attend, and what tracks we want to race at. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
To create a championship team, there are many pieces to the puzzle. At Campbell Motorsports, that is especially true.
“I’d really like to thank my car owners, Byron and Carol Campbell, and my crew chief Mike Keen and his wife Vicki.” Thorn began. “I have a great crew in David Cooley, Scott Sanchez, Sal Arceo, Jen Howard, Scott Franchimone, Bryan Brown and Chris Howard. I really need to thank my sponsors; Steve Durett with Surface Pumps Inc., Campbell Motorsports, Hronis Racing, Race For Autism, 51 FIFTY Energy Drink, Double Eagle Transportation, Alta Vista Cold Storage, H & S Auto Body, Finishline Signs, Joe’s Racing Products, Triple R Transportation, Victory Circle Chassis, Freight Train Peters Racing Engines Advanced Racing Suspension and Eibach Springs. I’d also like to thank my wife Erika for all of her support.”
During the 2017 season, look for the No. 43 Campbell Motorsports Team to continue their success in Super Late Model Racing. Wherever they end up on a particular weekend you can be sure that they will be one of the teams to beat, with a driver who is driven for success. That season will commence with the 2017 Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway Park (CA). It is an event that Thorn has run up front in, but has failed to take the checkered flag first. Thorn will look to put an end to that streak on February 9-11, against an all-star field from all parts of the country.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com