Bakersfield, CA – Derek Thorn made SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series start #100 count, as he dominated the “SPEARS Southwest Tour 125 presented by Senneker Performance”, on his way to series victory #52 at the historic Stockton 99 Speedway Saturday night. Thorn completed the pass of Rookie-of-the-Year leader Buddy Shepherd on lap eight, and never looked back to score the $5,000 victory in front of a nice crowd of fans at the Port City venue. In doing so, he moved to third in the championship standings trailing only Shepherd and 2015 SRL Champion Jacob Gomes.
“This thing has been so good all weekend”, Thorn explained. “Byron and Carol Campbell have put together such a great team with Mike and Vicki Keen and all the guys working so hard to make this as good as it is. Mike had this thing rolling all weekend, and we were able to get to the very bottom of (turns) three and four and it worked pretty darn good. I had great turn most of the night and I was able to complete the pass and set out my own pace and save tires as the run went on.”
Thorn continued, “I just want to say thank you to everyone who supports us, to get 100 starts in the SRL is awesome and to get it with a victory is even better.”
Thorn got the ball rolling by setting the PFC Brakes “Zero Drag Fast Time Award” with a time of 13.075 on the ¼-mile oval. Kole Raz was second quick with Buddy Shepherd, Cale Kanke and Blaine Rocha completing the top-five in the 16-car field. The position redraw, for the first eight qualifiers, found Gomes on the pole with Shepherd alongside. Thorn pulled the number three card with Zach Telford, Rocha, Raz, Kanke and Brandon Farrington completing the top-eight.
Buddy Shepherd got the jump on the initial start, from the preferred outside groove, to lead lap one. Thorn worked his way to second by lap four, with Gomes battling on the inside lane. Thorn was able to get to the inside of Shepherd a lap later and slowly work his way past the three-time Madera Speedway Pro Late Model Series Champion, to take the lead for good. A quick lap-10 yellow set up a race long duel between Gomes and Shepherd, as Gomes was able to get back by Shepherd in the outside groove to race to second.
Another caution for Cale Kanke and Tracy Bolin found Blaine Rocha jumping from fourth to second on the ensuing restart, to claim the FLUIDYNE High Performance “Cool Move of the Race”, before the red appeared for a four-car accident that eliminated Carlos Vieira. Another restart found Thorn out to the lead again, with Rocha hanging close to Thorn on a long green flag run. Gomes would battle to third with Shepherd fourth. As the laps clicked off, Kole Raz began to turn up the heat on his fellow Rookie-of-the-Year competitor Shepherd, as Telford and Kanke joined the battle. After repeated attempts to the inside, Raz spun on lap 67 to bring out the fourth caution of the night.
The restart saw Shepherd back to third, getting by Gomes in the preferred outside groove. Another quick debris caution found Gomes return the favor, as Kanke turned up the pressure on Shepherd for fourth. As the laps wound down, Kanke repeatedly tried to get to the inside of Shepherd, with Jeff Bischofberger joining the battle. On lap 108, Kanke met a similar fate to Raz, when he spun trying to make the inside pass.
The final restart saw Thorn reassume the lead, with Shepherd fighting by Gomes once again on the outside for third. When the checkered flew on lap 125, Thorn had scored SRL victory number six at Stockton, and 52nd overall. Thorn was followed by Rocha, Rookie-of-the-Race Shepherd, Gomes and Bischofberger. The second five consisted of Zach Telford, Ross Strmiska, Dean Thompson, Cale Kanke and Kole Raz.
One of the keys to Thorn’s victory was his ability to choose the high line on each of the restarts. It is a trait that has become more pronounced at the tough ¼-mile track, as Thorn related.
“Momentum was big, and it seemed like everyone was getting tight, as the track was tightening up a little bit, so the bottom wasn’t a good place to get good roll speed. This kinda place is where you’ve gotta be rolling, so the top was where it was to keep the guys pinched down. Every time you come here the place changes a little bit, but for us, that was where it was at.”
Blaine Rocha had his best finish of the year, after starting the season with a 28th place finish at the “All-Star Showdown” at Irwindale Speedway. The two-time series winner has now finished in the top-10 in the last three events, including his second place run at Stockton Saturday night. He started fifth and worked his way into a position to challenge Thorn, but he just didn’t have enough car.
“We started fifth and worked our way up when we could”, Rocha recalled. “The outside was a little better and that lined us up a little better and we got into second. I tried to just pace with Derek and stay with him. At times I would try to gain a little on him, but his car was pretty stout. Mine was good, but we needed just a little bit more. I love racing at this track. It is one of my favorite tracks to race at because of the racing. I’m really happy with the finish, and I can’t thank the Strmiska family enough for everything they do. It’s an honor and privilege to be able to do this, and they make life so much easier doing this.”
After the event, Rocha didn’t see a path to victory that didn’t involve roughing up the leader, as he tried various options to get by Thorn. In the end, he found it more prudent to settle for the runner-up position than try to muscle his way by or push it to long in the lower groove.
“The first restart that I was up alongside him, I tried to stay up next to him and kinda drive off next to him, but that didn’t work out” Rocha related. “Then I tried to run up against him and then turn it down right to the bottom and try to drive it straight off to stay even with him coming into (turn) one, but he could get the run coming off (turn) two and drive it in, on the top of (turn) three and it’s hard on the bottom there. I’d rather tuck it in, than try to race him, than to sit on the inside (lane) and get passed by the rest of the guys. But we are really happy with the night.”
Shepherd had an up down night, but mostly between third and fourth. He nearly fell into the clutches of Kole Raz, battling for fourth, and then later with Cale Kanke for the same position. But the Rookie-of-the-Year leader held off those challengers and ended up third in the final rundown, edging Jacob Gomes for the position. He also led a few laps at the beginning of the event.
“We got a good jump on the start and led some laps, but we went tight from the beginning”, Shepherd stated. “We made the best of what we had and tried to make the car 20 feet wide. Luckily, my tires were on the floor, more than they were off the floor. There were a couple of times where it got a little sketchy, but that’s short track racing and that’s what I love.”
A large portion of the event he spent fending off challengers for fourth, but on each and every restart, he would swap positions with Jacob Gomes for third. He was fortunate enough to get the outside line on the final restart of the night.
We (Jacob Gomes) raced really really clean”, Shepherd began. “I bounced her off the wall, going down the front straight there off of four, with like 14 to go. Me and him (Gomes) had a really clean battle, especially for a place like this. We have always ran good together, so I’m happy to come out of here third. It’s my first time here in a big car, and it’s my Crew Chief’s first time here, so it wasn’t a bad weekend for us.”
The next event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series will be at All American Speedway in Roseville, CA. The JM Environmental Wild West Shootout Round #1 will take place on May 22nd and will pay $8,000-to-win, with a $1,000 leader bonus paid out on both laps 27 and 127. For those drivers who qualify in the top-eight, they will be eligible to start in the back for an extra $5,000 to win. All told, a driver could walk out with a $15,000 payday in the 147-lap affair.
- Derek Thorn, 2. Blaine Rocha, 3. Buddy Shepherd*, 4. Jacob Gomes, 5. Jeff Bischofberger, 6. Zach Telford*, 7. Ross Strmiska, 8. Dean Thompson, 9. Cale Kanke, 10. Kole Raz*, 11. Brandon Farrington*, 12. Tracy Bolin, 13. Scott Sanchez, 14. Tim Spurgeon, 15. Carlos Vieira, 16. Andy Allen