Derek Thorn has been one of the strongest Super Late Model competitors in the country for a while, but many perhaps aren’t too familiar with his name. That’s because he’s from the left coast of the country and normally only comes east in December for the Snowball Derby. This weekend though, Thorn heads to Five Flags Speedway Friday night to run the Southern Super Series race at the famous half-mile.
Thorn will pilot the no.9 machine owned by Kurt Jett. He ran one race with the team this year and drove the car right into victory lane.
“I’m really excited. Kurt and his entire team are awesome individuals,” Thorn told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “They’ve got great equipment and good people around us. It’s going to be an awesome experience.”
When Thorn visits Five Flags Speedway he expects to race against the top Late Model talent in the country. Drivers like Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Hemric, Bubba Pollard, and even Kyle Busch. While most of those drivers will be there on Friday night, Thorn will still have to contend with the usual crop of Southern Super Series talent like Pollard, Casey Smith, Casey Roderick and now, Ross Kenseth.
The Southern Super Series is arguably the toughest Super Late Model series in the country, and that competition-level is something that the two-time SRL SPEARS Southwest Tour Champion is about to experience.
“The difference between first and fifth or first and 10th at a Southern Super Series race is very small,” Thorn said. “It doesn’t take a whole lot to be off a little bit and run in tenth.
“I’ve learned that when you race against guys of that caliber you just have to take it one step at a time and one lap at a time. Hopefully we can get it dialed in on Thursday night and be pretty quick and over time find some speed and then by race time be somewhere near the front.”
After winning back in June in one of Jett’s Pro Late Models at Five Flags, Thorn is confident that he and the team can do what it takes to run up front and contend for the win on Friday night.
“With new teams in the past there’s a little bit of skepticism in what the driver’s abilities are or aren’t,” Thorn explained. “Sometimes there’s things the driver or the team can’t avoid and you run into bad luck. I think we have a little bit of luck on our side. We’ve got the win under our belts. I’m comfortable with them and they’re comfortable with me. I think more than anything it gives the team the confidence that I have the ability to step into their equipment and represent their team well.”
Thorn and Jett will only be racing on Friday at Five Flags Speedway and will not continue to Alabama for the second half of the Southern Super Series Gulf Coast double-header at Mobile International Speedway.
Thorn, from Lakeport, California, explained that the main reason why he has been coming to race Jett’s car has been in an effort to be better prepared for a shot at a Snowball Derby win in December. He said it’s just too difficult for his normal Campbell Motorsports team to make the trip to Florida’s panhandle when it isn’t for the Snowball Derby.
“The hardest part for us as a team out of California is how expensive it is to come out and run,” he said. “It would be extremely difficult for us as a team with the dynamic that we have with our day jobs to not only financially come back and run, but logistically speaking it’s been difficult for us to come out and run prior to the Derby. I feel like that’s my Achilles heel.
He finished third in the 47th running of the Snowball Derby one year ago, but feels with the extra time at the tricky half-mile this year he should be even more prepared to fight for the prestigious victory.
“Now that Kurt Jett has given me this awesome opportunity, it’s a win-win for me to come back and get some seat time on the track and run against these guys with the same engine package we’ll be running later in the year,” Thorn said. “It’s the same everything so it’s easier for me to get acclimated to this and then it will transfer over to the Derby.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Rex Emerson Photo