Derek Thorn survived a wild Saturday night at the New Stockton 99 Speedway and muscled his way to his third SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series win of the season. Thorn collected $5,000 for his victory in the SPEARS Southwest Tour 125 presented by 51 FIFTY Energy Drink, taking his SRL career earnings to well over the $200,000 mark.
The four-time SRL champion took the lead from John Moore after a lap 17 restart and had to fend off numerous challenges late in the event from Ricky Schlick, and then Eric Schmidt. Thorn’s win was his third of the 2018 season and his series-leading 35th career victory.
Despite the win and accomplishment, Thorn was somewhat somber in victory lane about the way the race finished and for his involvement in it. After the race, he took responsibility for the finish of fellow competitor Ricky Schlick and for how he raced with Eric Schmidt.
“I didn’t feel like I raced like a champion tonight,” Thorn told Speed51.com. “I feel bad for the 48 (Schlick). Stockton is just tough. There were just so many cautions and people spinning multiple times. A couple of the restarts with the 48 were kind of questionable and I cleared myself when I probably shouldn’t have. One of the final restarts I got in there so darn tight there was nothing I could do to keep it down. Then I really used him up and lost him three or four spots.
“I did the same thing to the 05 (Schmidt) and none of it was intentional,” Thorn continued. “At the same time I was driving over my head, and that is what I was doing. I just made a few mistakes that cost a couple of guys some spots.”
Thorn didn’t top the speed charts all weekend long until he busted out a 14.284-second lap in qualifying to take the PFC Brakes Zero Drag Award over the closely spaced field. All but two of the 21 qualifiers where within four-tenths of Thorn’s time, leading to tight competition on the historic track known for its propensity for action.
2006 SRL Champion Eric Schmidt clocked in second. ahead of 2015 Pacific Challenge Series (PCS) champion John Moore, 2017 SRL Rookie of the Year Ricky Schlick and 2001 NASCAR Southwest Tour Series champion Craig Raudman.
With the top-eight qualifiers redrawing for position, John Moore drew the number one card, followed by Raudman, Thorn, 2015 SRL Champion Jacob Gomes and Schmidt.
Moore jumped to a quick lead on the opening green with Raudman following behind. Schmidt made his way around Thorn and was challenging Raudman for second when contact between the two sent Schmidt spinning for the first of many cautions to come. It would set up a valiant drive from the back for Schmidt.
“It was early in the run and I felt like I had position on him (Raudman) and he didn’t,” Schmidt conjectured. “So, we met at the apron in turn one and I ended up turned around. That led to a hundred-lap dash, trying to get to the front with the fenders on it. I was looking at trying to get by 20 cars and that was a mess. Once we got later on in the race, when the tires started wearing out, it was easier to maneuver around them. The guys raced well for the most part until the very end when it got a little physical. But that tends to happen here.”
Following a red flag for a scary incident between veteran Bob Lyon and Rookie Eric Nascimento Jr., Thorn was able to wrestle the lead away from John Moore following a two-lap battle. A long green flag run ensued after a quick yellow for a stalled Matt Wendt on lap 25. During that run, Ricky Schlick was able to advance to third and Schmidt recovered to ninth before a spin by Michael Sandoval.
After another quick yellow, Schlick was able to get under Moore and advance to third by lap 94, with Schmidt moving to sixth. After the lap 94 yellow, Schmidt advanced to fourth on lap 101. The ensuing restarts found Schlick battling Thorn on the outside on each restart but running out of room as Thorn moved up the track.
The final stoppage was for a red flag on lap 109 which involved more than a half dozen cars. Included was Carlos Vieira, who was running in the top-five, Jeremy Doss, who hadn’t been able to advance into the top-five, and his teammate Jeff Bischofberger. All three competitors were able to return after the red was lifted.
On the final restart the action got heated with Thorn pushing up into Schlick, causing him to lose positions back to Raudman in fifth. Raudman spun a few laps later after battling with Schlick for fourth.
Raudman recovered without the caution flag being displayed and pulled out in front of the lead three, which now included Doss, who had gotten by multiple cars during the Schlick and Thorn incident. As Thorn tried to get around Raudman, Schmidt and Doss were applying heavy pressure to Thorn. Schmidt pulled up alongside Thorn several times and appeared to have the preferred line, but he was unable to clear the four-time champion.
When the checkered flag fell, Thorn fended off Schmidt to take the victory. Schmidt had to hold off Doss for the runner-up position as Schlick finished fourth. Vieira took the final top-five slot while missing most of his left side body panels.
John Moore held on to sixth, followed by Kyle Neveau, Jeff Bischofberger, Jason Gilbert and Tim Spurgeon, who was the final lead lap car.
When asked what he could have done differently to steal the victory from Thorn, Schmidt was quick to jest.
“I could have used a couple of right-side tires,” Schmidt chuckled. “I don’t think Thorn was going to lose tonight. He was racing aggressive and there was a lot of contact. You usually don’t have that with him, but he was going to win tonight. I’m happy to come out of this thing rolling and with the fenders mostly on it. I’ve been coming to Stockton for a long time, 15 years, and it’s just a good rowdy short track and it is fun.”
Jeremy Doss finished third in the final rundown, but felt very fortunate to get there while taking advantage of some seemingly bad luck.
“We just kept getting stuck on the bottom and our car wasn’t working very well down there,” Doss told Speed51.com. “We kept starting seventh and we would pass a car and then get passed back. We made a run on that restart, and I don’t know what happened but we all just started wrecking. We came back into the pits and found that we had a flat. I think that is why it wasn’t working. The car turned a lot better after the tire change, but I’m just happy we were able to salvage a third-place finish.”
The driver who appeared to have the best shot at Thorn was Ricky Schlick. The Claremont, California driver had a great time in his first Super Late Model start at the facility and had a chance at the end to steal a victory.
“We were up there in a really good position and our restarts were really good,” Schlick commented. “We were on the outside of Thorn a couple of times and he kind of cleared himself. I’m not sure if it was because of his spotter or because he said his tires were junk, but it is what it is and I can’t really do anything about it. I know I’ll put it in the back of my head the next time we are on the track and I’ll just keep digging.
“I liked the hardcore racing out there with the door slamming. That’s what it is all about. That is Stockton with a big Super Late Model car. A lot of people come out of there with their doors knocked off and all I’ve got is a missing fender. I’m happy with that.”
Thorn was quick to thank his team for their effort while also acknowledging how rough of a race it was.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” Thorn began. “We didn’t have the best car in practice, but Mike (Keen) made a few changes before qualifying and got us to where we needed to be. That allowed us to get a really good draw with the qualifying pills. I just really have to thank Byron and Carole Campbell along with Mike and Vicki Keen and the entire team. The race started off rough and it was a rough, rough night. People are going to be pissed and that is just the way this track races.”
The next event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series will be at Madera Speedway on September 29. Jeremy Doss will enter the event as the championship leader over Eric Schmidt, Ricky Schlick, Carlos Vieira and Jeff Bischofberger.
-Story by Kevin Peters, Speed51.com Southwest Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Unofficial Results: 1. Derek Thorn, 2. Eric Schmidt, 3. Jeremy Doss, 4. Ricky Schlick, 5. Carlos Vieira, 6. John Moore, 7. Kyle Neveau*, 8. Jeff Bischofberger, 9. Jason Gilbert, 10. Tim Spurgeon*, 11. Craig Raudman, 12. Jack Wood*, 13. Cole Moore*, 14. Blaine Rocha, 15. Jacob Gomes, 16. Michael Sandoval, 17. Scott Sanchez, 18. Greg Potts, 19. Matthew Wendt*, 20. Eric Nascimento*, 21. Bob Lyon
*Rookie of the Race: Kyle Neveau
FLUIDYNE High Performance Move of the Race: Eric Schmidt
Coleman PowerSports Hard Charger Award: Kyle Neveau