Derek Thorn prevailed in a late-race duel with Jacob Gomes and then held off Trevor Huddleston to win Saturday’s “Patriot Honors 100 presented by Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse San Dimas” at Irwindale Speedway (CA). The win for Thorn is his second career SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series victory at the beautiful half-mile paved facility in what was possibly the last SRL event at the track, after the announcement of its closure at the end of January of 2018.
With all circumstances considered, the win was an emotional one for the three-time series champion.
“This one just feels so good,” Thorn told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It’s been such an emotional roller coaster to get this track figured out. We have never been able to hit the nail on the head and the guys just worked so hard all weekend. We scrapped all our mock qualifying runs and scrapped trying to be fast in practice, and just tried to make this thing good at night. Mike Keen has worked so hard for me, with so many sleepless nights, trying to get this thing right at Irwindale. To be able to win this for him, Byron and Carol Campbell, and the whole team, possibly the last time we will ever get to race at this track, means more to me than you or I can ever put into words.”
Thorn began the day earning the Rockwell Time Fast Qualifier Award with a 17.643-second lap, barely besting Trevor Huddleston by 0.028 seconds. It was his 44th career series pole, but somewhat of a surprise after practicing in the bottom half of the top 10 all weekend. The duo was followed by a revitalized Jacob Gomes, Blaine Rocha and Christian McGhee to round out the top five.
Standard race procedure has each driver within the top eight redrawing for starting position at the front of the field. Ricky Schlick drew the number one pill, followed by Gomes, Thorn, Huddleston, Lance Wilson, Rocha, McGhee and Craig Raudman.
Schlick jumped out to an early lead with Gomes in tow. Gomes was able to get under Schlick on lap 21 and led until a lap 30 caution for Craig Raudman, who spun after contact from Linny White while battling side by side. During that stretch, championship runner-up Bobby Hodges pitted with a flat right rear tire and limped around the remaining laps with a broken rear end to impair his championship fight.
The restart found Gomes jumping out to the lead again with Thorn in tow. The field ran clean and green until a lap 72 spin by championship leader Blaine Rocha. That caution turned out to be the opportunity that Thorn needed to wrestle the lead away from Gomes, as he powered ahead on the inside line on the ensuing restart. Another quick caution placed Gomes on the inside for the restart, where he was able to clear Thon in turn two, but Thorn performed a perfect cross over move to retake the lead down the backstretch, and earn the FLUIDYNE High-Performance Cool Move of the Race. Contact a lap later, between Gomes and Huddleston found Gomes getting dropped to fifth with Huddleston the new runner-up.
The biggest incident of the evening occurred on lap 87, when hard racing between top 10 drivers Nick Joanides and Toni McCray resulted in a red flag, as Colorado’s Kyle Ray, Cale Kanke and a charging Blaine Rocha were caught up in the melee. All drivers were done for the evening, with McCray, Rocha and Kanke getting the worst of it.
The ensuing restart found Thorn back to the lead with Huddleston in tight pursuit. Despite his best attempt, Huddleston was unable to wrestle the lead from Thorn and had to settle for second, 0.69 seconds behind the leader.
Despite the second-place finish, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship hopeful was happy with his best SRL finish.
“We had a great race tonight,” Huddleston began. “The High Point Racing, Racecar Factory Team gave me a great piece tonight. Wow, it was an honor to race with Derek. He actually helped me out. Now I have some tricks that he used on me that I can use next time. Thanks to him for running me clean, and it was a really great battle. I’m looking forward to coming back to see if I can get a win. Racecar Factory is just starting to build these straight rail chassis cars and they are going to be in Victory Circle really soon”.
Finishing third was Lucas Oil Modified star Linny White. He ran a consistent race, and was able to take advantage of the late-race restart to tie his best career SRL finish in his Earl Robbins owned, HSPI Hydrolic Power Systems Inc. supported ride.
“We fought a tight racecar all night. The restart there at the end really helped us out because the car was good for about five to ten laps,” White recalled. “I felt like a ping-pong ball out there a couple of times tonight. I feel really blessed to be able to come home with a top three finish tonight. Racing with the greatest drivers on the West Coast, and to be able to finish in the top three is awesome.”
In the end, Thorn found victory lane but he had to survive a battle with Jacob Gomes to get the lead and the eventual win.
“Jacob is awesome, he deserves a win just as much as we do,” Thorn stated. “He has been working his a-- off and has been running really well lately. It was one of those things where I went to the bottom but didn’t know if it was going to stick or not. I looked over the corner of my headrest and saw him disappear. I was just waiting for my spotter to say clear when I get back to the gas. I don’t know how close it was, but I’m pretty sure it was pretty tight. It was enough and I didn’t want to wreck him, but I felt comfortable enough to slide up there. I got him, then he got me back, and it is just one of those things where you have to have track position here.
“With the setup being different than what we normally run, a bit of it was just guesswork on the restarts. But I got up on the wheel, and just tried to drive it to make Mike and the guys on this team proud. They gave me an awesome race car and it was just my job not to mess it up. I just need to thank the entire Campbell Motorsports Team, my teammate Carlos Vieira, and the whole 51 FIFTY Energy Drink group.”
The next event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series will have a short turnaround and will take place at the Rocky Mountain Raceway in West Valley City, UT. It will be a combination event with the Northwest Super Late Model Series (NWSLM) and will pay $10,000 to the winner, thanks to David Mulcahy of Retro Custom Metals. The “Retro Custom Metals Civil War 150” will take place on Saturday, September 2 and pit the stars of each series, as well as visiting guest stars, against one another. It will feature two 75-lap segments with a controlled pit stop at the halfway break. For racing fans in the West and the Central United States, it should be a can't-miss event.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series Unofficial Results
Irwindale Speedway (CA) – August 19, 2017
- Derek Thorn, 2. Trevor Huddleston*, 3. Linny White 4, Ricky Schlick*, 5. Jacob Gomes, 6. Colby Potts, 7. Ron Esau, 8. Lance Wilson*, 9. Matthew Meech*, 10. Keith Spangler**, 11. Bob Lyon, 12. Craig Raudman, 13. Kayla Eshleman*, 14. Eric Schmidt, 15. Chris Clyne, 16. Scott Sanchez, 17. Kevin Furden*, 18. Christian McGhee, 19. Dennis Furden*, 20. Bobby Hodges, 21. Cale Kanke*, 22. Blaine Rocha, 23. Nick Joanides, 24. Toni McCray, 25. Kyle Ray, 26. Carlos Vieira, 27. M.K. Kanke, DNS. Jack Wood.
*Registered Rookie of the Year Contender.
** Rockwell Time Hard Charger Award.