Bakersfield, CA – Derek Thorn tied M.K. Kanke with six career Southwest Tour Series victories at Irwindale Speedway (CA) Saturday night, winning the “SPEARS Manufacturing 100 presented by Earnest Performance” and a cool $5,000. Kanke had three in the SRL and three in the NASCAR Southwest Tour Series, while Thorn’s career began after the former series disbanded. For Thorn, it was his second race win of the season produced a gain of 30 championship points on Preston Peltier, in battle for the 2021 crown. Thorn took the lead on lap 55 from Buddy Shepherd, and was never headed again, as he picked up SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series victory #51.
After the event, Thorn was excited for the win, as well as having fans back in the stands to see series in action.
“We had such a good car, and this place is so hard to pass”, Thorn told the crowd at Irwindale Speedway. “Shepherd had a really good car, and I had to go when the moment arouse. This thing was on rails, once we got out into clean air, and could set our own pace. Thank you, Mike Keen, Byron Campbell, and everyone one who is watching here and at home, and to all those who came out to support us. It’s the first time in a year, and it’s way better to have all you guys back. I love it, and it’s awesome to be here.”
Thorn began the afternoon qualifying an unusual 7th, after the 29-car field was weaned down to 28 combatants, when Bryce Bezanson hit the wall in Friday’s practice. Brandon Farrington was the man in qualifying, earning the PFC Brakes “Zero Drag Fast Time Award” with a quick mark of 17.246 seconds on the ½-mile oval. Less than 0.6 seconds separated the entire field, with the top-eight redrawing at the front of the field for position. Those drivers included Farrington, Kole Raz, Preston Peltier, Buddy Shepherd, Christian McGhee, Cale Kanke, Thorn and Jimmy Parker Jr.
On the redraw, Buddy Shepherd found himself on the pole alongside Jimmy Parker Jr. Preston Peltier and Christian McGhee made up row two, followed by Kole Raz, Brandon Farrington, Thorn and Cale Kanke. Shepherd got the jump on the start, with Peltier moving to second as Parker began to fall back. Thorn was up to second by lap 7, with a three-wide move around Peltier and McGhee, who had made contact, slowing their progress. The contact found Peltier dropping to sixth, as the front combatants continued to battle.
The first stoppage occurred on lap 16, when contact between Dylan Lupton and Dean Thompson, found the 2020 SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Rookie-of-the-Year in the Turn #3 wall. Under the red, Peltier pitted from eighth with damage from the earlier racing incident, returning to restart tail end Charlie. The restart saw Shepherd and Thorn battling side by side for three laps, with Shepherd in the preferred outside groove. Shepherd would eventually clear Thorn, but the five-time series champion would keep the pressure on the 2021 Rookie-of-the-Year leader. Thorn moved inside on multiple occasions but was unable to finish the pass.
In the meantime, Jacob Gomes was moving forward from his 10th starting position. Gomes had had an unspectacular weekend to this point but had moved to sixth by lap 40 and was pressuring a tight pack of cars battling for third. By lap 46, Gomes was able to move by Farrington, McGhee and finally Raz to take the position and take up the chase of the two leaders. The move earned Gomes the FLUIDYNE High Performance “Cool Move of the Race”, after losing a rear end on Friday.
As the field ran green, Thorn continued to pressure Shepherd, when on lap 55 he got a great run off Turn #2 to pull to the inside of Shepherd, while approaching lapped traffic. By the exit of Turn #4, Thorn secured a lead he would never relinquish, as Shepherd tried to battle back.
The last slowdown of the race came on lap 57, when contact between Scott Sanchez and Dylan Garner found the Rookie-of-the-Year candidate in the Turn #4 wall. On the restart, Gomes shot to second, getting by Shepherd with an outside move. Shepherd began to lose the handling on his Chevy Camaro, as Kole Raz, Brandon Farrington and Christian McGhee moved by to make up the top-five. The field once again set out on another long green flag run, with Thorn establishing a one second lead. As the laps began to run down, Gomes began to gain on the leader, as they approached a gaggle of seven cars battling for 14th on the racetrack. The duo reached the back of those cars on lap 90, but Thorn was able to make quick work of the pack, in the far outside groove, trapping Gomes in the swarm.
With Thorn now in control, the battle for the final top-five position picked up, with Cale Kanke getting by Farrington, then holding off a charge from the recovering championship leader Preston Peltier. At the checkered, Thorn scored series victory #51, with 2015 series champion Jacob Gomes hanging on for second. Kole Raz had his best series finish, as the Kulwicki Driver Development Program participant came home third. Former SRL Rookie-of-the-Year Christian McGhee crossed the line fourth, with Kanke getting his first career series top-five finish.
When asked about his success, Thorn, as usual, gave credit to his team in Victory Lane.
“It’s the owner and Crew Chief”, Thorn expressed. “Byron and Carol Campbell and Mike Keen…it’s amazing to be driving for those guys. They’re the one’s who put this stuff together, and make it as good as it is, and it’s my job just to not mess up.”
Third place finisher Kole Raz was pleased with his first top-five in the series, and the rebound from his 17th-place finish at Kern County Raceway.
“I’m pretty happy for our third-place effort”, Raz stated. “It’s a big rebound that we needed after Kern County. We’ve got some things we can continue to improve on for the next time we come back. Each race team and I continue to make big gains. It is pretty special to have this run to kick off our KDDP run for the cup this season. A big thanks goes out to SPS, Brad and Joan Corneliusen, Wells Johnson, and the Master Wrench.”
The next stop for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series is at Stockton 99 Speedway on May 1st. After three trips to the half-miles to begin the season, the series will hit the shortest track on the schedule at the historic ¼-mile venue.
- Derek Thorn, 2. Jacob Gomes, 3. Kole Raz*, 4. Christian McGhee, 5. Cale Kanke, 6. Preston Peltier, 7. Brandon Farrington*, 8. Buddy Shepherd*, 9. Carlos Vieira, 10. Blaine Rocha, 11. Jimmy Parker Jr., 12. Andy Allen, 13. Keith Spangler, 14. Kyle Neveau, 15. Ross Strmiska, 16. Mark Neff*, 17. Austin Thom*, 18. John Moore, 19. Dylan Lupton, 20. Jeff Bischofberger, 21. Tracy Bolin, 22. Scott Sanchez, 23. Corey Neveau*, 24. Sean Woodside, 25. Dylan Garner*, 26. John Dillon, 27. Trevor Huddleston, 28. Dean Thompson, DNS. Bryce Bezeanson*
-SRL Press Release
-Photo credit: Kevin Peters