Derek Thorn only needed 34 minutes to get the job done Saturday night at Madera Speedway. The Bakersfield, California driver led every lap of the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series “Race for Autism 125” at Madera Speedway (CA) to pad his slim championship lead after five events on the season. Thorn was never seriously challenged for the win in a race that saw only one caution and a 108-lap green flag run to complete the event. For Thorn, the win was special for several reasons.
“It’s great to win here for Campbell Motorsports at the Race for Autism 125,” Thorn told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Being able to support such a great cause throughout the season with Campbell Motorsports and the 51 FIFTY Energy Drink brand makes this a very special win. It’s neat to have the Gloves Not Drugs kids here as well to help represent this race. And to be in Madera, which is the backyard of 51 FIFTY Energy Drink and Race for Autism, makes it neat to bring home a team win for all of us.”
Thorn was fastest in final practice, but incoming championship runner-up Ryan Cansdale set fast time in qualifying with a 13.885. The time bested Thorn by 0.025 seconds on the third-mile oval. It was a sort of revenge for Cansdale after Thorn edged him in the last event at Irwindale Speedway by 0.017 seconds. Cansdale pulled a three for the invert putting Christian McGhee on the pole, with Thorn positioned to his outside to complete the first row. Cansdale and 2015 SRL Champion Jacob Gomes made up row two with three-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Champion Eric Holmes and 2015 Irwindale Speedway Late Model Champion Trevor Huddleston in row three.
Upon Noel Dawson’s green flag, Thorn inched ahead of McGhee over the first few laps with the field battling side by side behind them. Blaine Rocha and Craig Raudman bounced off one another exiting turn four on lap 3 while battling for eighth. Rocha got the short end of the stick, just clipping the very end of the K-barrier on the inside of the track. Rocha was done for the night, but the field continued on under green flag conditions.
The first and only caution fell on lap 14 when Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series veterans Keith Spangler and Mike Mendenhall tangled in turn three while battling in a large pack. Mendenhall was done for the night with Spangler only able to complete a few more laps. It was a big disappointment for Spangler who was making his 75th career SRL start, which put him second all-time.
Thorn chose the outside line on the restart. When the green reappeared, he was able to reassert his lead. Jacob Gomes followed Thorn around McGhee for second with Bobby Hodges following suit on lap 18. Hodges was able to get under Gomes and complete the pass by lap 22 to move into the runner-up position. From there, he took up the pursuit of Thorn. who hadn’t gotten away from the group.
Over the remaining 100 laps, Hodges was able to close to within a few car lengths several times, but was never able to give Thorn a serious challenge for the lead. By the conclusion of the event, Thorn had lapped all the way up to the fifth position, which Craig Raudman had secured by lap 34 from Ryan Cansdale. Thorn would finish with a two second advantage over the Carson City, Nevada driver in a race that took just under 34 minutes.
“This is a good weekend for us here at Campbell Motorsports. We hadn’t had any dominating performances this season….. Mike Keen (crew chief) and the guys have really worked hard on the new straight rail package. For the straight rails, we have been running, we don’t have any notes at any of the tracks. Getting the cars up to speed and consistent has been a real task, but we keep chipping away at it”, Derek told Speed 51 presented by JEGS “Tonight we got rolling and the car was pretty good. I looked into the mirror and I didn’t recognize the hood decal, Derek continued smiling and referring to Hodges NATC sponsored car. For the better portion of the race he was within three or four car lengths. He had a solid run and I underestimated him this weekend. Congratulations to him on a great run.”
Hodges was excited to finish second, after struggling to get into the top five following consecutive second place finishes to end 2015. He came from eighth on the starting grid to secure his best finish of the season.
“It was a great night and I can’t thank the guys enough at Naake- Klauer Motorsports, They work so hard,” said Hodges. “We unloaded and we weren’t very good, but they slammed this thing and it came alive in the race. I was kind of catching him (Thorn) early, but I kind of kissed the wall so I decided I needed to save my stuff a little bit. Towards the end we just ran out of time. It was fun pacing him, watching him and learning from him. I think if we had a late restart it would have been interesting, but it was fun…it was a really fun race.”
Jacob Gomes won the Pacific Challenge Series race at Madera in March, but on Saturday night he finished in the third position. After a grueling run, it did give him confidence going forward to the next race in Eureka.
“It was a long race and it went green forever and I got real thirsty,” Gomes recalled. “It was a good race, I just didn’t have enough there, as the car was a little tight. The car was consistent, it just need to be a little faster.”
When asked about a potential late restart, and his opportunity to get a win, Jacob was amused.
“We build pretty good bumpers,” he said. “I don’t know, we could have had a good shot at second, but Thorn was real fast. At the beginning of the race we got into the wall, kind of hard, and I think that wrecked it a little bit, but we might have had something for them. I am really looking forward to Eureka. We qualify in the top two every time there and last year we were really fast until we had a wheel come off. I think we have a really good shot there.”
Christian McGhee finished fourth, but was disappointed in his effort after starting on the pole.
“I have got to get better on my behalf,” McGhee lamented. “I gave up way to many positions on those two starts. We were running decent lap times at the end, but like I said, I have to get better. The car didn’t fall off too bad, especially with a 110 lap green flag run. It was our first time here so fourth place isn’t too bad and I can’t complain about it. It was a good points night, but definitely not what I wanted. I only went backwards, so that’s not good. We will put our heads down, do some homework, we’ll get back and I’ll get myself better.
Southwest Tour veteran Craig Raudman finished fifth to secure his 13th top-five effort in the SRL. He started 10th and was the final lead lap car.
“You know the car started out really good and I could run the outside extremely well, with good grip. The car had great drive off. Once we got up there, there weren’t any yellows and everyone just kind of leveled out and I stayed even with the guys in front of me. No one passed anybody and it was a long grind to get to the end,” Raudman said.
With his win, Thorn extends his point lead over McGhee to 50 points. Cansdale finished the race 11th, after a broken track bar early on hampered his efforts. That dropped him to third, five points behind McGhee.
The next race for the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series will be on August 6 at Redwood Acres Raceway in Eureka, California. It will be the third event for the series at the three-eighth mile facility. The previous two events were both won by Jim Pettit II.
Final Results: 1) Derek Thorn 2) Bobby Hodges 3) Jacob Gomes 4) Christian McGhee* 5) Craig Raudman 6) Carlos Vieira 7) Trevor Huddleston* 8) Buddy Shepherd* 9) Cole Moore 10) John Moore 11) Ryan Cansdale 12) Dennis Furden* 13) Eric Holmes 14) Justin Westmoreland 15) Keith Spangler 16) Mike Mendenhall 17) Dustin Ash 18) Blaine Rocha
*Registered Rookie of the Year Competitor.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com