In just four previous runnings, the SRL Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway Park (CA) has become one of the most regarded Super Late Model events of the year in the eyes of many top drivers. This is especially true for many locals in Southern California, including 2017 race winner Derek Thorn.
Thorn, along with the Campbell Motorsports No. 43 team, are all based or live just minutes from the track which is located on the western edge of Bakersfield. Since opening in 2013, he has wracked up plenty of laps around the half-mile oval.
It should come as no surprise that the race is a favorite for Thorn, but as he revealed Monday on Speed51’s Morning Bullring talk show, it hasn’t always been a guaranteed success.
“To have the Winter Showdown in our backyard is always a special thing for us. The Snowball Derby is our Daytona 500, but this is right up there with it,” Thorn told Speed51.com. “People have asked me throughout the week how I feel about it, and I when feel great about it I always fall short or have something go wrong. But, if I go into the race weekend like everything’s falling apart, it always seems to come together.”
As a driver with four SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series titles, plus another two in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, and a dominating Winter Showdown victory two years ago, Thorn isn’t one to be rattled easily by mind games.
“I’m going to go into it with an open mind," he said "I feel like we always have the best prepared equipment that I could think about with Campbell Motorsports. We’re going to go at it one day at a time and hopefully come Saturday afternoon we’re holding that check.”
While the confidence is high in the 43 camp, Thorn will face off against many tough opponents, including Preston Peltier who will be driving for a Hamke team which has been recently bolstered by the recently announced partnership with Kyle Busch’s Rowdy Manufacturing.
“Moving forward, someone like that with that kind of support behind him with Rowdy and Hamke with as strong as they’ve been in the past, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be running up front," Thorn said. "Just one of those things where they have a lot to learn and try some new stuff they have tested ahead of time. I expect them to be as strong as ever.”
Of course there’s plenty of other drivers who could be a threat to Thorn’s aspirations, including some who he feels are sleepers on the cusp of a big winning performance.
“There’s quite a few kids, a lot of times they don’t get the credit they deserve. One is Jack Wood is out here on the west coast, who runs SRL quite a bit. Eric Schmidt might not be a spring chicken but he’s been in the SRL and in California for a while, and he had really strong runs last year, including some races we won where he just didn’t have the luck he needed. He’s one of the guys who’s been a sleeper that I’ve been watching.”
There has been debate that while the Winter Showdown does not have the historical lineage that is found in many Super Late Model “crown jewel” events, that it should be considered so based on what it has built in such short a time. Thorn admits that he is biased in considering it a crown jewel, but that there is plenty to support the argument, including Kern Raceway itself.
“It’s all about perspective; being in Bakersfield and 30 minutes from the track, I absolutely think it’s a crown jewel," he commented. "Any series promoter and race director knows that a lot of work goes into this stuff, the facility at Kern County Raceway in my opinion is one of the nicest, if not the nicest short tracks in the country. It’s a beautiful facility with a lot of time and money put into that place. A lot of people on the East Coast haven’t seen it, but when they do, it rivals any other track in the country.”
Thorn went on to encourage fans and drivers that want to go to the Showdown in the future to judge by taking in the race itself, whether that’d be watching on Speed51.com or coming out to see it in person.
“To have $30,000-to-win, which is one of the highest winner’s purses in the country, at a facility like that, and can draw guys from the East Coast and a lot from around here, I think there’s no reason it should be up towards the top or at least in contention to be labeled as a crown jewel event.”
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-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com