Bakersfield, CA – Derek Thorn walked out of Stockton 99 Speedway $26,000 richer, having earned every penny of it Saturday night. In an event that could only be described as a wild west shootout, The “JM Environmental Inc. Wild West Shootout – Touch Too Much 227 presented by 51 FIFTY LTM.” experienced a litany of cautions and three red flags, as the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series competitors fought tooth and nail for a race purse that included $10,000-to-win, a Lap 127 Leader Bonus of $1,000, a $15,000 bonus for the “To the Back Challenge”, as well as the Motor City Throwdown Challenge of $2,750 for anyone to beat Derek Thorn to the finish Saturday Night. It was the only bonus Thorn didn’t collect.
“My strategy was just to survive”, Thorn explained about his strategy to take the challenge to start in the back. “227 laps around this place, you figure survival is all it is about. Mike Keene gave us an awesome car, and this entire team has worked so hard to get us where we are at, thanks to Byron and Carol Campbell. The car was a little tight to begin with, but there were so many cautions we were at the bottom so often, it just worked out. It was a struggle once you got to the top-five, and it was a lot more difficult. Fortunately, we got a couple of lucky breaks, and we were able to work our way past those faster cars. Once you have the lead, it makes it a lot easier. We made a couple of adjustments at the halfway break, as Gomes was really good. But we were able to hold the lead and save our stuff in case a couple of cautions came out.”
The evening started with Derek Thorn edging out Jacob Gomes in qualifying by 0.036 seconds on the historic ¼-mile oval. It was a scene reminiscent of multiple practice sessions that found the two former series champions at the top of the speed charts. The top eight from qualifying were eligible for the “To the Back Challenge”, with Carlos Vieira, Jeff Bischofberger, Kole Raz, John Moore, Bubba Nascimento and Blaine Rocha the remainder of those able to run for the $15,000 bonus. Thorn, Gomes, Bischofberger, Nascimento and Rocha all took the opportunity to run for the extra cash, with Thorn starting shotgun on the field.
Carlos Vieira and Kole Raz would lead the field to the green, with Vieira out to a quick lead. A lap six caution was brought out for a Cale Kanke spin and another caution a few laps later for an incident that eliminated Mike David and found Buddy Shepherd losing laps in the pits. The restart found Raz in the upper groove, edging just in front of Vieira, when the red was displayed for a scary head-on crash in Turn 3 involving Andy Allen on lap 11. Allen was okay and walked away from the incident.
Another yellow on lap 18 found Thorn up to fifth, with Gomes right behind him in sixth, as the duo made their way up from the rear of the field. Restarting in the preferred upper groove, Gomes was able to move by Thorn, John Moore and then Brandon Farrington to get to third when the caution flew again for an Eric Schmidt spin on lap 29. A 21-lap green flag run found Raz to the lead again with Gomes applying heavy pressure to Vieira for second. The battle came to a head, when Gomes and Vieira made contact, sending Gomes for a loop and what turned out to be the turning point of the race.
The restart found Thorn to third, but a chain reaction incident saw the red fly with Ross Strmiska, Dean Thompson and Jeff Bischofberger involved. Strmiska retired with Thompson and Bischofberger continuing with damage.
The field finally picked up momentum, with Raz leading another restart, after battling with Vieira. Thorn was eventually able to get by his teammate for second and chased Raz over the next green flag run. Thorn was able to get under Raz in the extreme low line in Turn 4 and battled side-by-side for multiple laps, finally gaining the lead on lap 84. It was a lead he would never relinquish as the lap 90 competition caution saw Thorn leading Raz, Farrington, Vieira and John Moore ahead of a recovering Gomes.
Another Red on lap 97 found 2006 SRL Champion Eric Schmidt perched upon the Turn 3 retaining wall facing traffic, with 2019 SRL Champion Cole Moore wedged below him. The extensive cleanup found the field finally firing off, with Moore tagging the tail of the field in a torn up appearing racecar. The planned break for fuel and tires came a few laps early, when on lap 120, the caution flew again. Thorn would lead Raz, Farrington, Vieira and a resurging Gomes to the break.
The restart found Thorn leading to the lap 127 bonus from JM Environmental Inc., collecting $1,000. Gomes made a charge to second at that point and took up the chase of Thorn. Another yellow on lap 156 found Farrington spun around in Turn 2 after contact with Scott Sanchez. The spin ended Farrington’s fine run in fourth, as he had to restart at the tail end and couldn’t recover.
The restart put an end to fellow SIGMA Performance Services driver, and Kulwicki Driver Development Program finalist Kole Raz’s day, when Blaine Rocha made contact with Raz, sending him for a spin in Turn 3. The incident also ended fine runs for Carlos Vieira and Jeff Bischofberger, who were all battling inside the top-10. At that point, Cole Moore had recovered to fifth, in a car that looked more suited to a demolition derby, earning him the FLUIDYNE High Performance “Cool Move of the Race”.
The restart after the red gave Gomes a shot at Thorn for the lead, as the two drivers had been the class of the weekend. But through the remaining laps, Thorn was able to hold off his nearest challenger, even through a lap 196 competition caution. Bubba Nascimento capped off a tumultuous weekend with a career best third place finish, followed by John Moore, who scored his second consecutive top-five. Cole Moore challenged his father for fourth, but settled for a fifth-place effort. Zach Telford, Blaine Rocha, Brandon Farrington, Dean Thompson, and Michael Sandoval completed the top-10, all on the lead lap.
Thorn recalled his run to the front early on and his race to get there before Gomes.
“It worried me a little bit when he was able to get out in front if us, as track position is huge. For him to get out in front of us was a big deal for him. Unfortunately, he got caught up in some stuff and he had to go to the back again. He made his way back up there again and kept us honest to the end. But I’m happy for Jacob, and those guys. We all work together, and they have had their share of bad luck and I’m happy for them to get a solid top-two with us. I’m bummed for my teammate Carlos, as he got caught up in a wreck there, but hopefully we can come back to Roseville and show some speed and be up front.”
For Gomes, it was a long night, where he had to drive from the back on two separate occasions, just to get his runner-up finish.
“It was rough”, Gomes replied. “I knew this was going to be a long night right off the start. We got all the way up there trying to pass for second and got run through the dirt there, trying not to wreck him (Carlos Vieira) and screwed myself. Maybe next time I won’t do that. I had to go all the way to the back and came all the way up again. I was fighting hard, to get by guys who were off the pace. I was trying to judge where I wanted to be on the restart, and it was just a long, long night. To get back to second was great. Derek was good and I don’t know what would happen if were up there in the first half, but it was just hard fought.”
Gomes is only left to ponder what may have been, if the spin didn’t happen at the quarter race mark.
“We were good, and he (Thorn) was good”, Gomes stated. “It was just a matter of who got up there first. I think me trying so hard and hitting the wall, straightening it up and stuff just didn’t really help. I think I crunched myself more. So maybe next time.”
Bubba Nascimento earned his first SRL top-five finish, with a third-place run. The 2019 Rookie-of-the-Year contender had a previous best of 10th in 2018, but showed resilience after a trying weekend.
“I can’t thank all these guys who helped out”, Nascimento expressed. “We showed up Friday and the clutch went bad after a couple of practices. We took the tranny out three times. The clutch still wasn’t working, so we had to push it all day Friday. We came today (Saturday) and the distributer was bad, and the ignition box was bad. But this car wasn’t bad after all. We struggled quite a bit, but we finally got it to where it needed to be. It was good racing with all these guys. Good ole Stockton 99. It was a long race for sure.”
Nascimento’s effort came on strong in the second half of the event. He was happy with the car, but needed just a little bit more to challenge the two leaders. A little more experience would have helped as well, as Nascimento explained.
“They were definitely really good. I think we were just a little off on corner exit. It just burnt the right rear off of it. We weren’t too far off the last 20 or 30 laps, we drove away from the field. I just needed to save a little bit more. It’s my first long race, so just getting better as a driver learning to save, save, save would have helped a little bit here.”
The next event for the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series is “Nut Up 125 presented by 51 FIFTY LTM.” at All American Speedway. It will be the second appearance at the Roseville 1/3-mile oval in 2021 and will be the penultimate event of the series season.
- Derek Thorn, 2. Jacob Gomes, 3. Bubba Nascimento, 4. John Moore, 5. Cole Moore, 6. Zach Telford*, 7. Blaine Rocha, 8. Brandon Farrington*, 9. Dean Thompson, 10. Michael Sandoval, 11. Scott Sanchez, 12. Carlos Vieira, 13. Kole Raz*, 14. Jeff Bischofberger, 15. Cale Kanke, 16. Eric Schmidt, 17. Ross Strmiska, 18. Buddy Shepherd*, 19. Andy Allen, 20. Tracy Bolin, 21. Mike David
*Rookie-of-the-Race: Zach Telford (1)
-SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series Press Release and Photo