Derek Thorn proved why he is a four-time SPEARS SRL Series Champion Saturday night at Madera Speedway (CA). Thorn held off Cole Moore, Craig Raudman and then Austin Herzog to score his series record 38th SRL triumph and seventh career victory at Madera in the SPEARS Southwest Tour 125 presented by 51 FIFTY LTM.
With his victory, Thorn vaulted into the championship lead, with incoming front-runner Jeremy Doss absent for the evening’s activities. Thorn took home over $5,000 as a result of the “Winner’s Bonus” sponsored by Tilton Engineering and MPI Max Papis Innovations.
“We have been so good because Byron Campbell has put together a lot of great people, and Mike Keen has put together a great program, that has made our cars really, really good,” Thorn said. “That allows me to step my game up and drive cars that are just phenomenal.”
Thorn got the evening started off with his 53rd career PFC Brakes Zero Drag Fast Time Award with a 13.839 second lap around the 1/3-mile paved oval. Linny White was the only other car in the 13-second bracket, with less than half a second covering the remainder of the field.
With the top eight redrawing for position, Linny White grabbed the number one card, with Tyler Fabozzi grabbing the coveted number two card to set himself up in the desired outside lane. Thorn went number three, followed by Carlos Vieira, Cole Moore, Jesse Love, Craig Raudman and perennial hard luck redraw master Jacob Gomes.
The 22-car field got off to a quick start on Noel Dawson’s green flag with Fabozzi jumping out to the lead prior to the first stoppage of the raace, when 2015 series champion Jacob Gomes lost a motor to end his night.
The ensuing restart saw the same scenario, with Fabozzi choosing the highline and jumping out to a quick lead. As the field stayed green, White began to close on the rear bumper of Fabozzi, applying heavy pressure. The battle came to a head when contact between the two resulted in Fabozzi spinning on lap 34. Fabozzi blended into third once the yellow flag was displayed; however, White was sent to the rear for contact with the leader that resulted in a spin.
“I was just pacing him and following him,” White began. “He is a good driver, but we got up off of two and he got into the wall. When he came off the wall, I think he checked up a little bit and I had a little too much momentum. I guess I should have given him a little bit more room when I saw him bounce off the wall. I was gonna try to set him up getting in the next corner. I don’t know, in the heat of the moment those things that go through your head, it’s kinda tough to play it back. But unfortunately, I got into him, and he got turned around and blended back into the third spot. It would have been really unfortunate for him to have to go to the back.”
The incident resulted in Thorn vaulting to the lead. A lead he would never relinquish despite challenges later in the race. Thorn had a bird’s eye view of the incident and was more than happy to take advantage.
“I was thinking, man they kinda made it easy right there spinning themselves out there,” Thorn chuckled. “I was still riding, so I don’t know how it would have been trying to get around the 6 (Fabozzi) and 99 (White). The car was solid all night. There towards the end it was still pretty darn good. There were a little more restarts than I would have liked to see, but all-in-all the car held up really well. I feel like there are not a lot of changes I would make for next time.”
The restart found Thorn leading Cole Moore, Fabozzi, Jesse Love and Carlos Vieira. Thorn jumped out to the lead from the outside, with Moore following. Fabozzi and Viera dropped back, with 2001 NASCAR Southwest Tour Series Champion Craig Raudman racing into the top five.
When a yellow fell on lap 48 for a Bob Lyon spin, Raudman used his fourth-place starting spot to dispose of Moore and Herzog in the outside lane. The veteran racer pressured Thorn for a few laps, but the long green flag run found Herzog working his way past Raudman on lap 74 as the trio, including Moore, battled in a tight pack.
On lap 104, slight contact between Tracy Bolin and Carlos Vieira caused Vieira to spin immediately in front of the leader. In a flashback to the 2018 SRL season opener, when Jeremy Doss capitalized on a last-lap pass due to a spinning car, Herzog dove under Thorn to take the lead. By rule however, Thorn was placed back at the front, as he was the leader crossing the finish line before the incident.
The similarities to the 2018 occurrence didn’t go unnoticed by Thorn.
“I did (have a flashback), there are a lot of gun-shy moments I’ve had here at Madera, including the last couple races, and on the last lap,” Thorn recalled. “I think I just have my guard up and don’t count my chickens before they hatch. You just don’t know what is going to happen here.”
As the field prepared to go back to green, Raudman slowed and had to be pushed to the pits with a failing alternator. The long-time series veteran on his “Farewell Tour” saw his fine third-place run end in a disappointing 17th-place finish.
The restart found Herzog and the resurgent Linny White battling over second, as Thorn pulled out to the lead. The final caution fell on lap 120 for a Bob Lyon spin, giving Herzog and White one more shot at Thorn.
The final five laps proved to be uneventful, however, and Thorn powered his way to series victory number 38. Herzog scored his best SPEARS Southwest Tour Series finish in second, with White equaling his career best third-place result. Cole Moore came home forth after running in the top-five most of the evening, with Blaine Rocha racing from 13th to fifth at the finish.
2015 Pacific Challenge Series Champion John Moore, 2019 SRL Rookie of the Year leader Tyler Fabozzi, 2017 PCS Rookie-of-the-Year Jack Wood, two-time PCS Champion Mike Beeler and the most recent Colorado National Speedway Super Late Model winner Jace Hansen, rounded out the top-10.
Despite Herzog’s second-place finish, the 16-year-old driver feels he had a shot at the top spot, if the race had come down to a long green flag run.
“We really didn’t need that last caution, I think everything cooled down too much,” Herzog speculated. “I was waiting on the tire pressures to come up, and we had a lot of tough competitors behind us. I think if we had a couple of more laps and heated the tires back up and the tire pressures came back up where they needed to be, we would have made some progress on the 43 (Thorn) and maybe had a shot at him.”
Herzog had a good time in his first SRL start at his home track, securing the “Top Rookie of the Year Contender” honors for the event. The 2019 Madera Speedway Pro Late Model Championship leader for the MAVTV televised series enjoyed the competition with the SRL contestants.
“I love racing with these competitors,” Herzog stated. “They all race clean and they all know what they are doing. Door-to-door racing is pretty fun with them.”
Linny White also felt he had a car to win. After dropping to 20th following the lap 34 incident, he worked his way back to the front in his one-race-old Rowdy Manufacturing Super Late Model. The effort earned him the FLUIDYNE High Performance “Cool Move of the Race.”
“We had a great race car, and I felt like we had the best car on the track,” White explained. “I wish that I didn’t have to beat it up coming to the front, and I would have been able to challenge Derek (Thorn). He is the king of the series, and I feel like we had him covered tonight. Our car was great. It was a really good race car.”
The SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series will now head to Kern County Raceway for the “Bulwark ‘FR 100 presented by SPEARS Manufacturing 50th Anniversary” on June 29. The event will be split into two 50-lap segments to honor the long-time series sponsor. Saturday’s race, as well as the Kern County race, will be televised on MAVTV at a time to be determined later.
-Story by: Kevin Peters, SRL
-Photo credit: SRL
Final Results: 1. Derek Thorn, 2. Austin Herzog*, 3. Linny White, 4. Cole Moore, 5. Blaine Rocha, 6. John Moore, 7. Tyler Fabozzi*, 8. Jack Wood, 9. Mike Beeler, 10. Jace Hansen, 11. Eric Nascimento Jr.*, 12. Carlos Vieira, 13. Kyle Neveau, 14. Michael Hite*, 15. Bob Lyon, 16. Matthew Wendt*, 17. Craig Raudman, 18. Tracy Bolin, 19. Jesse Love*, 20. Scott Sanchez, 21. Don Zoll Jr*, 22. Jacob Gomes
* Rookie-of-the-Year Contender