Last year Derek Thorn’s Snowball Derby week nearly hit rock bottom before it turned around for a third-place finish.
After two successful days of testing early in the week, things took a turn on Thursday afternoon, the first official practice day. Thorn picked up a bad vibration his first time out and the team thrashed all afternoon to get it fixed. Finally, several hours later, the problem was detected and fixed and Thorn went on to post the fastest time in happy hour practice.
All the ups and downs of last year’s Derby have Thorn and his No. 43 Campbell Motorsports team more prepared than ever for this year’s trip to Pensacola.
“We had an unexpected part failure that led to five other things getting destroyed in the process,” Thorn told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “That part failure was none of our doing, but the plus side to last year was we had all the parts necessary to fix the problem. Mike Keen heads up our team and he spends countless hours at the shop not only setting up the cars, but going over each car with a fine tooth comb before the get loaded in the trailer. I think we’re the most prepared we’ve ever been and last year was our first year together as a team at the Derby and I feel that everything we learned from last year will make us even stronger this year.”
All the issues last year made qualifying for the Derby even more intense, if that’s possible. Thorn calls Snowball Derby NASH 102.7FM Pole Night the most stressful days of his racing career, and don’t expect that to change even if things appear to be sailing smoothly this year.
“I think it’s the most stressful part of racing that I’ve had to endure,” said Thorn. “Just racing wise, probably qualifying day for the Derby is one of the most intense times. You really can’t put it into words, it is one of the most intense times, and you’re lined up on pit road with between 50 and 60 cars all vying for 30 positions.”
While pre-qualifying might be the most stressful for Thorn, he says there isn’t a better feeling than a few minutes later if you lock yourself in on time. A year ago Thorn did just that, recording the 11th fastest lap en route to a career best third-place finish in the Snowball Derby.
“Last year with the Campbell Motors sports team was a good run,” said Thorn. “We’d like to match that or do two sports better. That’s the reason we’re going, but at the end of the day I think we’ve done our homework. We’ve gotten a lot more time with the cars that we take back to the Derby, I think we have a bigger notebook to work with and I think that’ll play into our favor a little bit. Hopefully we can go down there and compete and do even better than last year.”
While Thorn hopes to bring home the Tom Dawson trophy, he also looks to lead the charge from the West Coast. The Lakeport, CA driver is just one of a handful of drivers making the trek across the country for the 48th Annual Snowball Derby. He also has his eye on the Speed51.com West Coast Bounty that will pay $551 to the highest finishing driver from the West Coast.
“It’s really cool that Speed51 is doing that for each region of the United States,” said Thorn. The West Coast is down on car count and I feel fortunate enough that I’ve gotten the chance to come and run multiple times, but to come back and represent the West Coast is always cool. I hope there’s some more West Coast teams for us to run with, it’s neat to see them make the trip and good to see Speed51 supporting the guys making the journey.”
Typically the trip to the Snowball Derby is the only time each year Thorn lays eyes on Five Flags Speedway.
“Coming from the West Coast that’s the first time you see the track all year,” said Thorn. “You run your 400-500 laps before the weekend is over with and then go home.”
This year, however, Thorn made the trip cross country on three different occasions. His Southern Super Series race was cut short, however he grabbed a win and an eighth-place finish racing with Kurt Jett’s Pro Late Model team.
“The driving style is definitely a lot different and I think the blessing is, this year I was fortunate the Jett family gave me some opportunities to run some races at Pensacola and I feel like I have a better understanding of how that place works,” said Thorn. It’s fairly technical and I’d like to think that because of the track time I got this year in both the Pro and a Super Late Model I’ll be a better fit, give better feedback and have better understanding of the facility, the track itself and how it races. I feel I know what you can and can’t do, what you can and can’t get away with and hopefully that plays into our favor.”
His experience in the Jett Pro Late Model should also play into his favor as Thorn plans to pull double up this year, running both the Snowflake and the Snowball Derby.
“People ask about the Derby a lot and it’s almost impossible to put the Derby into words,” said Thorn. “Not just from a driver’s perspective but from a fans perspective, and I think it’s just one of them races that most race fans should have on their bucket list. It’s a race I will always love going to, hopefully for years to come, especially when you run up front because you’re running against the best racers in the country.”
The 48th Annual Snowball Derby weekend kicks off with the Cat Country/WEAR-TV3 Green Flag Party on Wednesday, December 2. On-track activities start Thursday, December 3, for the opening practice rounds for the Snowball Derby Super Late Models and Snowflake 100 Pro Late Models. The Five Flags Butler U-Pull-It Bombers and Beef 'O'Brady's Sportsman divisions will also have feature events on Snowball Derby Thursday.
The top Snowball Derby starting spots will be set on Friday, December 4 during WXBM 102.7 Pole Night at Five Flags. The Five Flags Faith Chapel Super Stocks and Modifieds will also battle in their Snowball Derby features after Super Late Model qualifying.
The Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100 takes center stage on Saturday, December 5 as the top Pro Late Model racers in the country qualify and battle for 100 laps at Five Flags. In addition, Saturday's action features the final 50-lap qualifying event for Snowball Derby drivers to make one last effort to qualify for the 300-lap Super Late Model race. The Better Built Tool Box Pro Trucks will also have a 50-lap feature on Snowball Derby Saturday.
Then on Sunday, December 6, the green flag will drop on the 48th Annual Snowball Derby at 2 p.m. CT at Pensacola, Florida's Five Flags Speedway.
For more information on the 48th Annual Snowball Derby weekend at Five Flags Speedway, visit www.snowballderby.com. All media credential requests and inquiries for the Snowball Derby can be sent to Matt Kentfield at [email protected] and/or Pat Bryant at [email protected]
For more information on Speed51.com and the rest of the 51 Companies, contact Jana Wimmer (Director of Business) at 51 Sports via email through [email protected] and visit Speed51.com. Speed51.com is on Twitter at @speed51dotcom and on Facebook by searching Speed51.com.
-51 Sports/Snowball Derby Press Release. Photo credit: Speed51.com