In its 48 previous editions, the Snowball Derby has been a race dominated by drivers in the Southeast with the occasional Midwest invader scoring top honors. Although Las Vegas native Kyle Busch broke this trend in 2009, there has yet to be a full-time West Coast driver to win the most prestigious pavement short track race in the country. California’s Derek Thorn has been the fastest bullet to make the cross-country trip in recent years, and the 49th Annual Snowball Derby on December 4 may be his best chance to finally take the Tom Dawson Trophy back home.
Though Thorn will miss the Snowball Preview on November 19 at Five Flags Speedway, he does have two days of private testing planned the Sunday and Monday before the Derby. Even though he and the Campbell Motorsports No. 43 team know what they need, they believe the biggest challenge will be to adapting to the ever-changing track conditions.
“I think we know what we’re looking for. The Derby is an extremely difficult week of racing and it’s one of those things you got to try and take a day at a time,” Thorn told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “The track conditions seem to change with the humidity and stuff. It can go from one day to the next and the car can feel completely different. I feel like we’ve been well prepared every time we’ve come back there and I think every time we’ve come back there we are able to get a bigger and better notebook.
“Everyone on the team is really looking forward to this race and I think that everything has essentially been there the entire year. We’re focused on this race, we’re making sure we have speed, finding different things on the race car that lead to us running up front.”
Thorn is set to bring an enormous amount of momentum into this year’s Derby, already winning four races with the SRL Southwest Tour Series in 2016 and being in position to collect his third SRL championship on November 19. This year the team plans to bring something even more valuable to Pensacola: the same race cars they have run all season long.
“Momentum is never a bad thing, being able to run up or near the front. With our stuff in the SRL, this year we were able to use straight-rails in the SRL, where in year’s past we had to use perimeter chassis. Now we are able to bring the two cars we’ve been racing most of the year that we were allowed to run and get better notes with and run them at the Derby,” Thorn explained. “Not only momentum but using the same chassis at the Derby that we’ve used all year long should help us find a little more speed.”
Thorn has finished top 10 at the Derby the past three years, including a close third in 2014. In 2015 he had a good chance at the win until things went a bit sour late in the running.
“Last year was one of the tougher ones just because we had a good run going and our last pit stop was less than stellar, so we ended up losing a ton of track position,” Thorn stated. “From what we’ve done the last couple of years, we’ve been satisfied with the speed. The Derby is so tough, just putting the entire week together, from practice to qualifying, to the race 300 laps, so many things can go wrong. We’ve been fortunate to finish both Derby’s that we’ve run with Campbell Motorsports. Obviously we’d like to win but in order to finish first, you must first finish.”
Combined with the experience, people, equipment and momentum the team has for 2016, Thorn firmly believes this is the year they can get it done.
“Now is the time. I feel like with everyone we got on the team and program, Mike Keen heads us up, Byron Campbell and Carol Campbell are the owners. We’ve had the momentum and we’re all clicking. We have the equipment, we have the personnel and I feel like we have everything in place to run well and to perform on the stage of the Derby.”
Of course Thorn would still like to be that first full-time Left Coaster to get the big check, but he is proud to be coming with the biggest contingent of West Coast drivers seen in recent years.
“Looking back four or five years ago when we made our first trip out from California, it’s really neat to see the level of competition. There’s a lot of really good teams and drivers out here on the West Coast, it just seems like none have ever made that trek. It’s always been well represented with talent, so it’s nice to see them at the Snowball Derby.”
The 49th Annual Snowball Derby weekend kicks off on Wednesday, November 30 with the Cat Country/WEAR TV3 Green Flag Pit Party and Qualifying Order Draw Down.
Thursday, December 1 will see the Super Late Models take to the track for the first official Snowball Derby practice. The night will be highlighted by a 30-lap race for the Butler U-Pull-It Bombers and a 50-lap event for the Dock on the Beach Sportsmen division.
The top Snowball Derby starting spots will be set on Friday, December 2 during NASH FM 102.7 Pole Night. The Faith Chapel Super Stocks and the Modifieds will each run 50-lap features.
The Pro Late Models take center stage on Saturday, December 3 for the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100. The 50-lap Last Chance Qualifier for the Snowball Derby and a 50-lap feature for the Beef O’Brady’s Pro Truck division will also run on Saturday night.
Then on Sunday, December 4 the green flag will fly over the the 49th Annual Snowball Derby. The 300-lap race will begin at 2 p.m. CT.
For more information on the 49th Annual Snowball Derby weekend at Five Flags Speedway, visit www.snowballderby.com. All media credential requests and inquiries for the Snowball Derby can be sent to Pat Bryant at [email protected]
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-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com