Derek Thorn is coming off the biggest win of his racing career, but the 30-year old-driver from Lakeport, California will be looking for even more success as the 2017 racing season kicks into gear next weekend.
Thorn, who currently resides in Bakersfield, California, is coming off a win in the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour’s 3rd Annual Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway Park (CA). On March 25, Thorn will be eyeing a victory at Irwindale Speedway (CA) in the “SPEARS Manufacturing 100,” the season-opening championship event for the SRL.
The three-time and defending SRL champion got the monkey off his back with a victory in the $30,000-to-win Winter Showdown in February. Thorn, who had won several $10,000 to $15,000 events, finally put a win in one of the premiere short track event under his belt. Previously, he had come close by finishing second in 2016’s Summer Showdown at Evergreen Speedway (WA), as well as the 2006 and 2016 All American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville (TN) and the 2014 Southern Idaho 222 at Magic Valley Speedway (ID).
Thorn finished third in the 2015 Winter Showdown, 2015 Summer Showdown, 2014 Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (FL) and 2015’s 50th Annual Florida’s Governors Cup at New Smyrna Speedway (FL). In addition, he dominated the 2016 Winter Showdown, until a rear end leak ended his day early.
“This win was the biggest of my career,” Thorn told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It has always been something that we have wanted as a team. The Winter Showdown and the Snowball Derby were the highest races on my list to win. To be able to win on my home track, in my own backyard, means so much to us as a team. We came so close to winning this race a couple of times before, but it just escaped our grasp.”
In addition to being a meaningful win, Thorn feels that it just confirms what he has always known about his team.
“Driving for Byron and Carol Campbell and having Mike Keen and Scott Sanchez here in the shop, we feel that we can compete in any event we enter. This year we are not exactly sure how many open shows we will enter, or compete in. But whichever shows that Byron and Carol choose to go race in, we are really looking forward to them, knowing that we have the equipment, personnel and the team to compete for the wins no matter where we go.”
Despite not having their schedule completely mapped out for the season, Thorn has a few bucket list races that he has yet to compete in during his career.
“For where I am at in my career now, I am really happy racing where we are at now,” Thorn began. “But if you want to dream and look beyond where you have already raced, seeing Bristol on the schedule this year for short track racing is pretty neat. To have a race there for the Late Model divisions is very exciting. Obviously Winchester is a big event, and the Montana 200 is also one. It’s just all a matter of logistics. Those races are extremely expensive to go to. They are on the other side of the country for us. But to see them on the calendar for us would be really neat. But any race where we can go run against the best of the best, as far as competition goes, we look forward to.”
Heading into the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series opener at Irwindale Speedway, Thorn will be hoping for better results than he has had in the past. He has been fast, but has only one SRL win at the track in eight career starts. His average finish is 9.6 is his worst among all SRL tracks. He does have three second-place finishes, however, and a Pacific Coast Challenge Series Super Late Model win. He also has four fast times in the SRL, is the current SRL track record holder and won the pole for the Toyota All-Star Showdown in 2007.
“To be perfectly honest, and we have talked about this as a team, Irwindale is a place where we feel like we need to get better,” Thorn stated. “We have had the speed and have really good cars there. We have come really close a handful of times. We feel like we need to go there and figure some things out with our team, and ourselves, to get a little bit better there.
“One of the hardest things about that place, and maybe some people don’t see it, is the weather. Being it’s not real close to the ocean, but being as close to the ocean as it is, it has a lot of coastal influences. I think it gets affected a lot by humidity. It seems like the track can change a lot from day to night. At Kern (County Raceway), it is a lot more consistent in my opinion, from day to night. We have fought, for some reason in the past, with the weather change at Irwindale. I feel we have been chasing the humidity, and chasing the overall grip, to try to capture a little more speed, and a little more consistency. We look forward to trying to be just a little bit better this time.”
Despite the challenges that Thorn, and the Campbell Motorsports Team have faced at Irwindale, Thorn still enjoys the type of racing that the track can produce.
“I like racing there”, Thorn admitted. “You can run the bottom. You know on restarts, the bottom is popular for a few laps, and some guys can make the bottom work the entire race. Of all the pictures you see, you can be three-wide comfortably there, as long as you are around guys you can trust. Some guys even four wide. It is a very unique racetrack in itself, as there are not many racetracks throughout the country where you can do that.”
Thorn has had a multitude of success in short track touring series action, becoming one of the most successful drivers in West Coast history. In addition to his three SRL Championships, he is the all-time wins leader in the series with 29. He was also the 2013 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion. He garnered five wins over two seasons in that series, but never caught the big sponsorship break needed to advance to the big leagues. With the NASCAR K&N Pro Series also running twin 100 lap features, and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in town, Thorn still feels it will be business as usual for the team.
“I don’t want to say it doesn’t make a difference to me, racing in conjunction with the K&N Series with the Cup Series guys in town, but I think it is more about the health of the sport,” he said. “I consider the K&N Series to be in the short track category, just like the SRL. It’s great to be able to have a joint event, and hopefully get the fans there. Hopefully we will be able to put on a good show with both events. It is business as usual, in my opinion, for our SRL effort. Our goal, as always, is to set out to compete and win every event, regardless of if the West Series is there or not. Our focus is on our stuff and to compete to the best of our ability.”
Looking to the upcoming season in the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series, the Campbell Motorsports Team will once again team up with Carlos Vieira and the 51FIFTY Energy Drink, Race for Autism effort. The schedule of events for Derek’s No. 43 will be determined by Byron and Carol Campbell, but Thorn feels even with all his wins, that the competition will be stiff at each event they attend.
“In my opinion, as far as the West Coast is concerned, the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series has got some of the best drivers on the West Coast in it. For us as a team, we are always pushing ourselves to be better, because there are a lot of great teams, and a lot of great drivers out there. You can never underestimate anybody. Racing is never a cakewalk by any means, or by any stretch of the imagination. We just need to push ourselves to perform at 100-percent of our abilities.”
As a veteran of the SRL, with 65 career starts, Thorn has seen the series rules gradually transform from a strictly traditional “tour” perimeter chassis, nine-to-one motor series, to a series that now incorporates more and more of a traditional national Super Late Model rules package. The Campbell Motorsports Team was one of the first teams to head in that direction, which gave them greater versatility to compete with competition from other parts of the country.
“I think that it is an important key aspect to the series, Thorn said. “The open shows seem to be a trending thing and a topic of interest for a lot of people. You have guys racing for $20,000 or $30,000, whether it is the Summer Showdown, Winter Showdown, Snowball Derby, Montana 200 or the Vegas Open, etcetera. I had someone explain this to me a while back that the strength of a lot series is dependent on local drivers being able to race with the touring drivers. They may not be able to come out and run a bunch of races with the series, but they can run a few. I think if the locals come out to race with us, it will bring out the local fans to see them compete against us. Whether it is Tucson, Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, if the regulars can race with us, whether full-time or part-time, it can only help the health of the SPEARS SRL Southwest Series, and give us greater diversity.”
On March 25, the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series will open their 17th season at Irwindale Speedway with the “SPEARS Manufacturing 100”. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will join them for the first time in history, at the multi-groove facility, with twin 100-lap events.
Thorn will be joined by an anticipated four former SRL Southwest Tour Series champions. That is a proposition that Thorn will be sure to welcome, as he looks to continue his success against some of the best in the West.
Thorn and the Campbell Motorsports crew are assisted to the track by 51 FIFTY Energy Drink, Race for Autism, Hronis Racing, Double Eagle Transportation, Alta Vista Cold Storage, Surface Pumps Inc., Almanac Group, Advanced Racing Suspension, AR Bodies, Eibach Springs, Joes Racing Products, Victory Circle Chassis, Freight Train Peters Racing Engines, Bassett Wheels, H and S Body and Finish Line Signs.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/Bruce Nuttleman