Being that Derek Thorn calls Bakersfield, California home, he very rarely gets the chance to race at Pensacola, Florida’s Five Flags Speedway. Usually he only gets to travel to the famous half-mile oval once a year in December for the Snowball Derby. But there he was anyway, on Friday night, celebrating in Five Flags’ victory lane.
Thorn flew down to Florida after he and Kurt Jett discussed the possibility of Thorn running some races for Jett in the near future. Thorn made the most of the opportunity by taking one half of a double feature for the Pro Late Models at Five Flags.
“Kurt Jett is the man,” Thorn told Speed51.com powered by JEGS on Monday afternoon. “He sent me a message on Facebook, so I ended up calling him and we started talking about what races he wanted to run. Kurt was interested in having me come run a race. I was interested to do it because it was a chance to come back and run Five Flags before coming back for the Derby.”
At first it almost appeared as if Thorn had flown down to Florida for nothing after the team broke a rear end just five laps into practice on Thursday evening. But Thorn said even with that issue the trip would not have been wasted.
“No it’s never for nothing,” he said. “The Jett family and his group of people are awesome people. They’re out of Jacksonville so I went down ahead of time and got fitted in the seats and got acclimated to what their plan was. Then we drove from Jacksonville to Pensacola. So even if it had broken it wasn’t for nothing.”
Fortunately, for Thorn and Jett and the whole team, they were able to find a replacement rear end. It just required a couple hours of driving to pick up.
“Thank God Augie Grill was heading south from Alabama,” Thorn said. “We headed about two and a half hours north and met him somewhere in the middle. He had a rear end in his shop that was all ready to go. We pulled off in a gas station and he dropped it off. We had it in by 10:30 that night and we were testing by nine a.m. the next morning.”
Once the new rear end was in the car and they took to the track Thorn said they quickly realized they had a fast race car. He backed that up by setting fast time and sitting on the pole for the first feature, a 20-lap showdown.
Thorn dominated the race, leading wire-to-wire to score the victory. However, he wasn’t as fortunate in the second, 30-lap feature. Thorn tangled with Anthony Cataldi as they battled for second.
“What’s neat about Five Flags is they do a 20-30 double feature,” Thorn said. “You qualify, run a 20-lapper and then they invert the field and run a 30-lapper. They inverted a 10 so we started 10th for the second race. I made it back up to third and was racing for second place when I tangled for second. I ended up having to go to the back because of the caution coming out.”
While Thorn admits the second race wasn’t what he’d hoped for, he chalked it up to bad fortune and then said his favorite phrase.
“The beautiful thing about racing is it is what it is,” Thorn explained. “You don’t quite know. Sometimes luck is on your side and sometimes it isn’t.”
Lady Luck was on Thorn’s side for part of the night, but Thorn said he was at least happy in getting to run more laps at the challenging track as he prepares for December’s running of the Snowball Derby. He’ll also be back to run more laps with Jett in the coming weeks when he returns for the Blizzard Series race on July 24.
“Just to get laps on the track I realized is huge,” he said. “The track is so unique. Not only the fact that it’s aggressive and chews up tires, but the line you run and how you run to maximize grip but to save tires. So I felt like I learned a lot about myself and the more I can get acclimated to that place the better I’ll be. The more feedback I can give to my crew and stuff will make it a win-win.”
More seat time and a win on Friday night are two positives Thorn can take away from his trip. Or at least they’re what he’s trying to take away from Friday, because right now he said he’s just thinking about that second race.
“My personality is I’m always hungry for more,” Thorn said. “I’m never satisfied. Winning the first one was awesome, and at the end of the day when you look back on the weekend that was definitely the highlight.
“But the second race was disappointing. I felt like that could have been avoided with who I was racing with but it is what it is. There were some positives but sometimes when you have one race you win and a second race where you feel something was avoidable it’s disappointing.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Twitter – @DerekThorn6