Derek Thorn had been searching for a crown jewel Super Late Model win for a long time. On Saturday night, in his home state of California, Thorn scored that elusive win in dominating fashion during the 3rd Annual SRL Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway Park.
Thorn started the race from the pole and led all 250 laps on his way to picking up the $30,000 paycheck.
“Man, I don’t even know what to say. That’s just… I’ve been waiting for this for a while,” Thorn said on the Speed51.com live broadcast. “We’ve had a lot of good runs in a lot of big open shows for some big money and we’ve come up just a little short. To be here at home with Byron and Carol Campbell, Mike Keen, this is our backyard. This is a Victory Circle chassis out of Bakersfield, Brad Peters motor out of California, these guys have worked so hard to get to this point and this is just a relief.”
Despite leading wire-to-wire, the victory for Thorn wasn’t easy. In order to get to Victory Lane, he was forced to fend off stout competition in the form of former NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Erik Jones and two-time defending race winner Bubba Pollard.
“Just try not to goof off,” Thorn said when asked about his late-race strategy. “I was looking back in my mirror and I was like, those are three of the best short track, if not the best racers in the country -- and maybe the world itself -- and I just tried not to mess up. Mike gave me a perfect car, I just tried not to goof it up.”
While Busch, Jones and Pollard all had their shot at Thorn throughout the race, it was 2016 Southern Super Series champion Donnie Wilson making a late-race run at the lead. After an intense battle with Jones for second, Wilson began to chase down Thorn before running out of time in the closing laps.
“I don’t know,” Wilson said when asked if he thought he had anything for Thorn. “It’s just so hard to pass here. Restarts are critical, I thought mine were pretty good. The outside line moved pretty good on the restarts, obviously if you were stuck on the inside it kind of hurt. I don’t know, we were kind of even-steven from my vantage point. We did what we could. I’m happy; I’m thrilled.”
Busch, who only had one practice session as a result of Friday’s rain out, charged towards the front in the closing laps. In a battle reminiscent of their battle at the 2012 Snowball Derby, Busch edged out Jones to round out the podium.
“I certainly wish for a little bit more. We come home third there, certainly we wanted to run a little bit better up there with Derek,” Busch stated. “We got up to second earlier in the race and we wanted to try a different tire strategy than the rest of the guys. We felt like coming in on lap 110 and putting tires on it and going the rest of the way was going to be way too long on tires. But those guys made it work, more power to them.”
After a tough battle with Busch, Jones finished fourth while Tennessee native Willie Allen rounded out the top five.
At the end of the night, as he stood in Victory Lane at Kern County Raceway Park, Thorn summed up what the win meant to him with just a few words.
“The largest and best one I’ve ever got in my life.”
For an on-demand replay of Saturday’s race, visit Speed51.com’s Trackside Now coverage presented by JRi Shocks.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Bruce Nuttleman/Speed51.com
3rd Annual Winter Showdown Unofficial Results
|20||54||Donny St. Ours|
|33||55S||Rod Schultz Sr.|