Derek Thorn led all but the first three laps to take home the checkered flag and $5,000 in the rain shortened season opener for the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The “Blackjack 121” was called on lap 62 of 121 when persistent rain showers prevented the field from returning to green flag conditions after a lap 39 yellow for moisture on the track.
Race day dawned with wind and rain preventing any Saturday practice on the 3/8 mile paved oval. The starting line-up was based upon Friday’s practice times with Derek Thorn pulling a three for the invert, after being fastest on practice day. 19 cars made an appearance, but 18 started the event, with Parker Stephens leading NTS Motorsports teammate Blaine Rocha to the green flag. The wet weather made for a green, single lane track and Parker jumped into the lead from his pole position with Derek Thorn following into second as Rocha fell back to seventh in the outside line. On lap three, Thorn got under Stephens and completed the pass for the lead by lap four.
The top four of Thorn, Stephens, Christian McGhee and Ryan Cansdale then settled into a rhythm waiting for the competition caution on lap 25. Behind them, Jeremy Doss was leading a second group of drivers until lap 19. Jacob Gomes got under Doss and shuffled Jeremy back to seventh as Blaine Rocha followed Gomes through. Five laps later, Bobby Hodges would follow suit and wrestle seventh from the Kulwicki Driver Development Program participant. The lap 25 caution found Derek Thorn leading Parker Stephens, Christian McGhee, Ryan Cansdale, Jacob Gomes, Blaine Rocha, Bobby Hodges, Jeremy Doss, Carlos Vieira and Brandon White, who had recovered from 13th, after an outside lane start.
After the 5 minute break, the green flag reappeared on lap 28 and Thorn got a great restart to maintain the lead over Stephens and McGhee, with Gomes taking over fourth as Ryan Cansdale lost positions back to eighth with his outside restart position. Hodges was now up to fifth with Doss, Rocha and Cansdale following closely behind. Doss was able to get under Hodges on lap 32 and it was Bobby’s turn to lose positions back to eighth in the outside lane. On lap 36 Brandon White shuffled Hodges back to ninth and two laps later Rocha was able to finally return to the top five with an inside pass on Doss with Cansdale following suit.
Lap 39 saw the caution come out for moisture on the track and series officials decided to count yellows in order to help get the race in before the an oncoming rain cell reached the track. The event would never get back to green, however, as the sprinkles would not subside and the event was called on lap 62 as the rain intensified. Derek Thorn was declared the victor just after the half-way point of the event.
When Speed 51 asked Derek about the race, he had this to say; “I’m excited! It’s not the race that anybody wanted. We are all here getting wet all day and nobody got any track time prior to the race. But with our new teammate, Carlos Vieira, and the partnership with 51 Fifty, and the campaign with Race for Autism, I couldn’t be any happier for our Campbell Motorsports, 51 Fifty team. It’s our first win together and the first win for 51 Fifty in the SRL. It’s really cool to get to support, and get to raise awareness for Autism during Autism Awareness Month. It’s unfortunate the race had to end how it did, but I can’t thank my team enough. They put a lot of hard work into this and our season is just beginning. Hopefully we can get some more wins as the year goes on.”
Two other drivers who were disappointed with how the race had to end were NTS Motorsports drivers Parker Stephens and Christian McGhee, who finished second and third respectively. Both felt they had something for Derek, if the race had continued. “Man, we had a great car and it sucks that the rain cut it short tonight”, Parker told Speed 51.com. powered by Jegs. “I think we had the car to win, but we just didn’t have a good short run car”, Parker concluded.
Christian had similar sentiments. “I think we were the only car in the top 5 that weren’t glowing our rotors and we were just saving it and cruising. My spotter said the rain was coming and I started to see it on my front windshield so I got right up on the 28’s (Parker Stephens) bumper and the yellow came out. I think we could have had the win because we really had that good of a car”, Christian concluded.
Rounding out the top five where 2015 Spears Southwest Tour Series Champion Jacob Gomes followed by NTS Motorsports driver Blaine Rocha.
The second five consisted of 2015 Vegas SRL winner Ryan Cansdale, 2013 Rookie-of-the-Year Jeremy Doss, Brandon White, Bobby Hodges and series veteran Keith Spangler. Eleven through eighteen were made up of Noah Gragson, Eric Richardson, Carlos Vieira, Austin Reed, Ken Benhamou, Matthew Meech, Andre Prescott and Trevor Huddleston. Chris Clyne did not start the event and Toni McCray experienced mechanical trouble with their tow vehicle on the way to the track from her home in Highland California.
The next event for the Spears Southwest Tour Series will be at Irwindale Speedway on Saturday, April 30. A large field is expected as several drivers were unable to finish their cars prior to the series’ first point paying event.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent. Photo Credit: Kevin Peters/Speed51.com