Derek Thorn returned to the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway and returned to form, dominating the caution-free affair at the half-mile speed plant. Thorn scored his series record 34th career victory in the "SPEARS Southwest Tour 100 presented by Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse San Dimas” in front of 400 guests of SPEARS Manufacturing and a sunbaked Southern California crowd.
Thorn had to hold off Ryan Partridge early in the event and then Jeremy Doss at the three-quarters stage after taking an early lead. But in the end, he was up to the task.
“I was getting a little worried when Doss started to close in, but we just hung with it and were able to pull away a little at the end,” Thorn told Speed51.com. “I don’t know if you really have a strategy going into Irwindale because it’s a race that you kind of have to take as it comes. You don’t expect it to go flag to flag, so you are saving, but track position never hurts. Partridge was running right there with us and I had to keep him behind us. The spotter was keeping me notified of second place for a while and the speed was a little closer than I would like to see it. But at the same time we had to anticipate a caution. It just never came.”
Thorn drew the number three card to start the feature in the three hole, as all cars in the top-eight redrew for position. Trevor Huddleston drew the lucky number one, with Jacob Gomes selecting the two card, to start alongside Huddleston. Carlos Vieira, Ryan Partridge, Gracin Raz, Jeremy Doss and Jeff Bischofberger completed the top eight draw, with Eric Schmidt and Cole Moore just missing the redraw.
The initial green flag found Trevor Huddleston fighting off Jacob Gomes for the lead, as Gomes would soon fall back with a broken rear end. By Lap 3, Thorn was able to wrestle the lead from Huddleston with an inside move on the home track star. Partridge would follow Thorn a few laps later and the duo would pull away from Huddleston and the rest of the pack.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Doss and Eric Schmidt were making their way forward slowly from the seventh and ninth starting positions, respectively. Doss moved inside the top five just after the Lap 25 mark and Schmidt made his appearance there by Lap 50.
Shortly after that, Doss got by Partridge for second and took up the chase of Thorn. By three-quarters distance, Doss had closed to less than two seconds behind and appeared ready to make a charge.
“With about 30 to go, I thought I had something (for him),” Doss recalled. “I was gaining on him and I don’t know how much he was saving, but I felt like I had to use my stuff up. This place is so hard to pass and I had to use the car up. After that, the car just started to fall off a little bit. Maybe if a caution came out with 30 to go, we could have duked it out, but this is a big accomplishment for our team and we will take it.”
The possibility of a win seemed nearly impossible for Doss on Friday after the championship leader hit the wall early in practice.
“We started off Friday, made a few laps and I kind of made a bonehead move,” Doss explained. “The track was dirty and we ended up putting it in the wall. We didn’t think we would be able to fix it. We had it loaded up, but as the point leader we had to at least do a start and park. We pulled it back out after Friday’s practice and were able to get it fixed up. We got maybe 10 to 20 laps of practice in today and it was pretty good. After all this happened, it feels like a win to us.”
As the laps ran down, Thorn was able to lengthen his lead over Doss as a hard-charging Schmidt dispatched of both Huddleston and Partridge while closing on Doss. On the last lap, Schmidt dove low to attempt to take second from Doss, but came up just short. For Doss and Schmidt, it was a rewarding finish to tumultuous weekends, as Schmidt, the June SRL race winner, received no practice on Friday after his hauler broke down in route to the track.
“I was happy with the car from the beginning of the weekend. Breaking down on the way here, not getting here until late Friday night, basically rolling out of the trailer with what we had last time really seemed to have paid off,” Schmidt described. “(With a late caution) I would say that it could really have benefitted me, but you never know as tires cool down. It could have helped somebody else more than me. You just play with the cards you are dealt with.
“On the last lap, Jeremy put a pretty good block on me. I was running really well on the bottom and I stuffed it down into three on the bottom and he did the same thing. I got under him off of four, but I just didn’t have enough there. I needed a couple of more laps.”
For Thorn, his last victory at Irwindale Speedway was very emotional, as the track looked to be closing at season’s end. He is cognoscente of that fact and grateful for the opportunity to continue to compete at the facility.
“We won what we thought was the last race last season,” Thorn began. “To be back at Irwindale, to have this track still open, is really a big part of Southern California and the West Coast as a whole. Tracks nowadays are really expensive to run and maintain. For them to be able to keep this up and going, and for us to be able to come and race here in front of SPEARS fans and Sunrise Ford is awesome. I know these guys really worked hard to keep this place open.
“Byron and Carol Campbell deserve the greatest plug ever. The team they assemble and the equipment they give us, with Mike Keen working seven days at the shop. Dennis Frailey, Vicki Keen, Sam Arceo, Steve Rodriquez… these guys are what makes Campbell Motorsports so good. Thank you to 51 FIFTY Energy Drink and Race for Autism, as they are the reason we are able to race. Byron and Carol sit on the top of that list and I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity.”
Race fans who missed Saturday’s SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series event at Irwindale Speedway can watch a full on-demand replay of the race by subscribing to the Speed51 Network. Monthly and yearly subscribers receive full access to Saturday’s race, as well as nearly 55 other full-race broadcasts and thousands of on-demand short track racing videos.
The next event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series will be at the New Stockton 99 Speedway on August 18. The “Stockton 99 - 125 presented by 51 FIFTY Energy Drink” will find the “Tour” regulars taking on several of the Central Valley’s best Super Late Model drivers in an event that is sure to be action packed at the historic quarter-mile facility.
Official Results: 1. Derek Thorn, 2. Jeremy Doss, 3. Eric Schmidt, 4. Trevor Huddleston*, 5. Ryan Partridge, 6. Carlos Vieira, 7. Dan Holtz, 8. Jeff Bischofberger, 9. Gracin Raz, 10. Kyle Neveau*, 11. Cole Moore*, 12. Jacob Gomes, 13. Blaine Rocha, 14. Ricky Schlick, 15. Craig Raudman, 16. Cale Kanke, 17. Donny St. Ours, 18. Keith Spangler, 19. Bob Lyon, 20. Jason Gilbert, 21. Jack Wood*, 22. Chris Clyne, 23. Scott Sanchez, 24. Michael Hite*, 25. Linny White, 26. John Moore, DNS Tyler Fabozzi*.
*Rookie of the Year Contender
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com Southwest Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com