In March 2007, Lakeport, California’s Derek Thorn won an ASA Late Model Series feature at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville (TN) and as a result scored one of the coveted Nashville trophy guitars. Eight years later, Thorn will return to the track this weekend in hopes of winning the most coveted guitar in short track racing, the one given to the winner of the prestigious All American 400.
Thorn has filed an entry as the driver of the Kurt Jett-owned No. 9 for the 300-lap Pro Late Model event on Sunday, October 4.
“It’s been eight years since I’ve raced here and I love this place,” Thorn told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It’s still one of my favorites, top two or three by far of all the places I’ve ever been. It’s just a neat place, neat town, awesome race track. It’s got a lot of racing history and we’re really looking forward to it coming off of a little bit of momentum with this car.”
The momentum Thorn and the Jett team have built up stems from a recent win in the Allen Turner Tune-Up Pro Late Model 100 at Five Flags Speedway (FL). They plan to take that same car that they visited victory lane with to the 31st annual All American 400.
“We ran at Pensacola a couple weeks back and were able to win with it so we have high hopes that it can take us to good results this weekend,” Thorn stated.
“It was already kind of in the works to run the 400 at Nashville. I have been back in Florida for the last two and a half weeks with the Jett family. I ended up coming back and running Pensacola and then stayed the following week and ran New Smyrna last weekend. It was something that was pre-meditated but something we’ve definitely been looking forward to.”
As a relatively unknown short track racing talent, Thorn made his first All American 400 at Nashville back in 2006. He started third, led 137 laps and finished second behind Eddie Hoffman in the then 200-lap Pro Late Model portion of the race.
“I guess it was kind of like the first place I came to over here on the East Coast,” Thorn explained. “I come from out west running mostly short tracks in Northern California and no one had really heard of me.”
In Thorn’s previous All American 400 start, he competed in a straight-up 200-lap feature event. This year’s race will be 300 laps broken up into three segments of 125, 125 and 50 laps. The format is one that he believes challenges race teams and puts a lot of strategy into play.
“It kind of reminds me of the Showdown that Irwindale used to have for the K&N West cars,” said Thorn. “It’s a similar format to that, but the ironic part about this is that they give you 10 tires. You’ve got four on the car and then you’ve got to decide when to put on the other four. Obviously at some point in time you have to put on two tires so it’s a strategy race. It’s going to provide more dramatics. The person that’s going to win the race isn’t probably going to be the one to dominate the race, so to speak.”
If he ends up being the driver that comes out on top Sunday, Thorn would consider it to be one of the biggest accomplishments of his racing career. The former NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion thinks he has a team capable of winning the race, but at the end of the day he is just happy to be back in “Music City.”
“To come here and race against guys like (Bubba) Pollard, Chase (Elliott) and John Hunter Nemechek, those are all guys you see every day plastered in the headlines for both the short track scene and NASCAR scene,” Thorn noted. “It’s neat to come here with the Jetts, they’re awesome people. Just being here has made me realize how much I miss being here. It’s just a brilliant place to come race. Just to come race is an accomplishment in itself. Now it’s time to get down to the grind and hopefully go out there and compete against those guys.”
In addition to the nice $12,500-plus paycheck going to the winner, the driver who crosses under the checkered flag first will also received the highly sought-after All American 400 trophy guitar. Thorn knows that the guitar would look pretty good in his trophy case back in California.
“After the last one I won in 2008, I swore I’d get lessons but I never did. Hopefully if we do I’ll try to follow through with that. It’s just a really, really unique guitar and to have something like that in your trophy case is something that you probably look at as one of your biggest wins of any drivers career.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Derek Thorn