On August 6, the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series will make their third visit to Redwood Acres Raceway, the historic three-eighth mile “D” shaped paved oval on California’s beautiful North Coast. The Eureka, California track has had plenty of big events since its opening in 1947. They include NASCAR’s Grand National Division, NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Southwest Tour Series and the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series.
Winners at the facility include Herb Thomas, Lloyd Dane, Hershel McGriff, Bill Sedgewick, Mike Chase, Ron Hornaday Jr., Rick Carelli, Jimmy Walker and in the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour, Jim Pettit II. This Saturday night, a first-time SRL winner will be crowned at “The Acres” amongst a diverse field of young guns and veteran racers. Several of these drivers have ties to the venerable speedway.
Leading the charge into Eureka, for the Renner Petroleum/Bear River Casino and Hotel 125, will be Lakeport, California native Derek Thorn. Thorn is the current SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series championship leader and a veteran of the series with two championships and 27 career victories to his credit.
Thorn and his Campbell Motorsports team will be making their first SRL start at “The Acres”, but he is no stranger to the facility. Thorn has compiled four victories at the track with three North State Challenge Series wins and a Modified victory in the 2003 Fall Spectacular. Despite his last start occurring nearly 10 years ago, in 2006, Thorn will be one of the favorites to see the checkered flag first.
“It’s been 10 or 12 years since I’ve been there and even though the series has been there a couple of times, it just didn’t work out for the Campbell Motorsports team to make the trip,” Thorn told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “This year it is neat that we are back to a full-time schedule and running for the championship. It’s great that we are headed to a track that is close to my hometown where my friends and family can come and attend. Hopefully we can do well for them.”
Redwood Acres Raceway is a popular destination for many of the SRL drivers and Derek can be counted among that group.
Thorn stated, “I’ve run pretty well there in the past, but it’s the environment that makes it special. It tends to be a lot cooler than the average local short track here in California. It’s a three-eighths mile track that has a little character to it, so it’s neat to be able to race at a track like that. Coming from Madera where it was over a hundred degrees, it will be nice to race at a place where the temperature is in the 60’s and 70’s.”
Thorn also has fond memories of the track. He is especially proud of his Fall Spectacular victory in the Modifieds, at the age of 17.
“That was my first win outside of my home track (Lakeport Speedway). With my dad’s concrete business, we didn’t have the opportunity to travel much. We went up there with my dad, and I remember we qualified okay, but got to start on the pole and we won the race. It was one of those things, as a driver, where I was able to leave my home in Lakeport and spread my wings a little bit. It was neat to be able to win a big race like that,” Thorn recalled.
Thorn is also very thankful to his car owner, Byron Campbell, for the opportunity to race in this year’s edition of the event. Byron and I sat down to talk at the beginning of the season and it was one of those races on our list that we didn’t know if we could make or not. It is just far enough away that we would have to fly the team in and it gets to be very expensive. Once Byron found out that it was one of my home tracks, he wanted to go up there and run, so I could race in front of my hometown fans. I am very thankful to Byron to have the opportunity to be able to participate in front of my friends and family,” Thorn said with gratitude.
One of the local area young guns, and another contender for the win, is Eureka’s own Brandon White. The 19 year old will be making his 31st career SRL start and was a winner at Madera Speedway in 2014. White was last year’s fast qualifier.
On July 2, White was successful in his defense of last year’s Firecracker 100 win for Super Late Models at the facility. He is thrilled that the series has returned to his home track, after spending most of his early racing career participating in series that did not give him the opportunity to do so.
“It means everything to me. I love it here. I’ve always wanted to race here. I’ve actually dreamed of racing here and winning a big race,” said White. “This will be a big race.”
White and his North Coast Lighting & Electric, Joiner Motorsports crew will be looking for redemption in the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series event, as last season’s SRL race resulted in a fiery crash that completely destroyed his race car and rendered him unconscious. It was a crash that derailed a potential championship season and continued a series of less than desirable results and bad racing luck. He doesn’t feel the crash will affect him this weekend, however.
“I don’t think it will affect me at all,” White said. “When I came out to run the Firecracker 100, I was a little hesitant the first part of the weekend. Once I started getting my groove back and I started picking my times up, I felt more comfortable. I needed to be able to run the line that I am going to run in the SRL race and feel comfortable, so I forced myself at first to run that line.”
White will most certainly be one to watch as he was the fastest car on the track last year during qualifying and during the race. With a little good fortune, White could bring home the big prize at the end of the event.
Carson City, Nevada resident Bobby Hodges is another one of the series veterans with Northern California racing experience. Bobby is hopeful that he will come away with a Redwood Acres win. Hodges has been knocking on the door of victory lane over the last season and a half in an attempt to repeat his SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series win at All American Speedway (CA) in 2011. Hodges finished fourth in the first two SRL events at “The Acres” and is coming off a second-place finish at Madera Speedway in his Naake – Klauer Motorsports entry. He closed the 2015 season with two consecutive runner-up efforts and is in his first full-time campaign with the “Tour.”
Hodges hopes his experience at “The Acres” will help bring take him to Victory Lane. He is also looking forward to a weekend on the coast.
“The track is great. It is always fun going to that area,” Hodges explained. “It’s more of a vacation than just going to a race because the local area is so cool. The track itself is very fast, but there is no grip coming off of the corners so we will be fighting grip off all weekend. The winner will be whoever can keep the right rear underneath the car. It all boils down to holding on to the brakes and saving the right rear until the end of the race.”
When it comes to seasoned veterans, Craig Raudman is one of the most well-known and successful drivers in Northern California. The Cottonwood, California driver was the 2001 NASCAR Southwest Tour Series Champion and finished tied for fifth all-time in that series with 14 career victories. He finished top four in the championship standings six times, and finished second in the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour standings in 2008. He is also a former champion at Shasta Speedway (CA), a neighboring track to Redwood Acres Raceway, in Anderson, CA. The long-time Dave Reed Racing driver will be making his fourth “Tour” start at “The Acres”. He finished fifth in last year’s SRL event after leading eight laps early on. In the NASCAR Southwest Tour Series he had a sixth-place run in 1995, finishing right behind Kevin Harvick.
Raudman has high hopes for the weekend and feels that they are making progress towards finding victory lane for the fourth time in his SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series career.
“My expectation is to finish in the top three at Redwood Acres,” Raudman said. “I have raced there a lot and it’s been good to me. We have been working on the car quite a bit, the last several races, and we have been making some headway getting the car to handle, and getting more grip. The track surface is worn down and you just need to get grip and a good balance in the car.”
Raudman also feels like the fans will see a good competitive race on Saturday night.
“I think the fans will see a good race. If (Derek) Thorn gets his stuff right he will be really fast, but I think there will be some other good cars and there should be some good racing. At that track you can run well and there is a lot of room to race. I think it will be a really fast race, that’s for sure.”
In addition to the contenders mentioned above, look for strong and potential race-winning efforts from several other drivers scheduled to be in attendance. Track record holder and 2015 SRL Champ Jacob Gomes has taken a liking to the track, and has expressed that he is confident with his upcoming effort at RAR. Ryan Cansdale is a two-time race winner this season. He trailed Thorn by only 5 points heading into the last event when a broken trailing arm hindered his effort. Rookie of the Year leader Christian McGhee has not finished outside the top five all season and should be a contender. Blaine Rocha will be looking to turn his luck around in a season that has seen his strong efforts hampered by bad racing fortune. Rocha was third in last year’s event.
Additional series veterans looking for strong runs include Mike Mendenhall, Colby Potts, Keith Spangler and top-five point contender Carlos Vieira to name a few. Several drivers scheduled to make their Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series debuts include former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Brandon Ash and Redwood Acres multiple Late Model feature winner Luke Hall. Additional Rookie of the Year contenders, whom are entered, includes Andre Prescott and Dennis Furden.
Front gates open for the Renner Petroleum/Bear River Casino and Hotel 125 at 4:00 p.m. PT. Qualifying for the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. followed by Trophy Dashes for the Roadrunners, Bombers, Mini Stocks and Legends. Heat Races for the local classes trail the Trophy Dashes. An on-track Spears Southwest Tour Series meet and greet will follow, where the fans will get to see the cars and drivers up close. Local mains will be up next and the evening will culminate with the Renner Petroleum/Bear River Casino & Hotel 125 for the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com