Bakersfield, CA – Derek Thorn needed a little luck to score his fourth victory of the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series season Saturday night at All American Speedway. That good luck was Jacob Gomes’ bad fortune, as Thorn took the lead from the 2015 series champion with only four laps remaining in the JM Environmental Wild West Shootout “Are You Ready 147” presented by 51 FIFTY. Gomes suffered a cut tire with only four laps remaining to hand Thorn the $8,000 victory and series win #53 in front of a large crowd at the Roseville facility. It was a heart-breaking occurrence for Gomes, in a hard-fought short track shootout, as he recalled taking the lead on lap 82 and the ensuing disappointment.
“We had a great run, and it was really cool”, Gomes recalled. “We struggled in the middle but it kinda came to us at the end. We got that restart, and I was really surprised he went to the bottom and we got the outside. I was like, “okay, now we got a shot and I got by him”. Then I was nervous about when he was going to get back to us and we held him off. With 10-to-go, I was thinking in my mind “what can go wrong”, and we found out.”
Thorn opened Saturday’s action by setting the Performance Friction Brakes “Zero Drag Fast Time Award” with a lap of 13.116 on the 1/3-mile oval. He beat Rookie-of-the-Year leader Buddy Shepherd by 0.039 seconds. Brandon Farrington was third followed by Ross Strmiska, Blaine Rocha, Kole Raz, Carlos Vieira and Gomes. In the special event, each of the top-eight qualifiers were allowed the opportunity to start in the rear, for a shot at an addition $5,000 to win. When Thorn elected not to take the challenge, the remainder of the top-eight drivers stayed pat as well, putting Thorn on the pole for a straight-up start.
At the green, Thorn jumped to a quick lead, but Shepherd battled back on lap three to sweep by on the inside. The first caution flew on lap 22 for debris, with Gomes on the move into the top-five from eighth starting. The field ran in tight formation to another debris caution on lap 35, with Shepherd leading Thorn, Farrington, Rocha, and Gomes, with Vieira and Raz battling for sixth. The next slowdown involved that duo, as Raz and Vieira made contact down the front stretch, resulting in major damage to the #51 of Vieira, body damage to Raz’ machine, and a Red Flag.
When action resumed, Shepherd and Thorn battled hard, with Thorn getting under Shepherd to lead laps 43 and 44. But Shepherd showed his muscle by working back under Thorn to retake the lead on lap 45. As the lead duo put on a show, Gomes continued his strong run getting by both Farrington and Rocha, as Cole Moore made his first appearance in the top-five, dropping Rocha to sixth on lap 50. In the meantime, Shepherd and Thorn were battling for the top spot with Thorn getting his break in lapped traffic on lap 77, as he dive-bombed Shepherd in Turn 3, It was a three-wide move with John Moore involved to take the lead, as Thorn recalled.
“We traded paint there for a minute, and then he had the lead but got caught up in some lapped traffic. I used John Moore as a pick and Buddy tried to crowd me down to the cones, but I was already committed to going into (Turn) 3, and I couldn’t get out of it. So, by the time he pinched me down, I was already committed to that line. We made contact and the rest is history.”
Shepherd recalled the incident and how the lapped traffic played a part in the outcome.
“We came up on that lapped car and it was definitely a struggle trying to get around him. I couldn’t really get in there when he was exiting. I finally got in there and we were three-wide going into the corner on a track where you shouldn’t go three-wide into (Turn) 3. All-in-all we had the fastest race car here and I’ve gotta Butch VanDoorn, Zach and the whole crew that worked so hard for this. We are a little team that is trying to compete with the big teams. I guess that is what happens when you play with the big boys. We are going to come back to Kern and go get physical.”
When the Competition Caution came out on lap 80, Shepherd exited the track to repair the body damage to his Chevy Camaro, as a result of the three-wide racing incident. Another quick caution on lap 82, involving Tracy Bolin, Dean Thompson and Scott Sanchez, set the stage for Gomes run to the front. The restart found Gomes wrestling the lead from Thorn on the outside, earning him the FLUIDYNE High Performance “Cool Move of the Race”. The duo battled hard but clean until another caution for a Bolin spin on lap 101, with Rocha back up to fourth and Shepherd just cracking the top-10.
Cale Kanke’s top-10 run ended on lap 110 as a blown tire sent the popular driver into the Turn 1 wall. The restart found Gomes and Thorn battling side-by-side, with Gomes finally getting the spot from the outside groove. On lap 127, Gomes collected the $1,000 bonus that Shepherd had claimed on lap 27, by continuing to hold off Thorn for the lead. By that time Shepherd had moved to fourth and had closed on Farrington for third. As the field ran green, Shepherd got under Farrington for the position, and took up chase of the lead pair.
The turning point of the event occurred on lap 143, as Gomes began to slow due to a deflating tire. Thorn was quick to pounce and grab the top spot from the leader, as Shepherd continued to charge to the front. There would not be enough time for the rookie, however, as Thorn took the checkered on lap 147 to claim the big payout from John Moore and JM Environmental. Shepherd crossed the line second, with Brandon Farrington, Blaine Rocha and a recovering Kole Raz the top-five.
It was a bittersweet win for Thorn, as he spoke after the race about his battle with his fellow champion.
“I feel bad for Jake”, Thorn began. “He had such a good car there at the end. I could match his lap times, and I could catch him, but it is one thing to catch him and another thing to pass him. It was a good day for us, with a little bit of luck involved, but all-in-all, I’m proud of these guys for how hard they worked, it’s racing. Sometimes you just got to be there at the end to make it work. Tonight, was one of those nights.”
Thorn continued, “At this place our car was good on the long runs and it wouldn’t fire off as good. Track position was big tonight, and you couldn’t run the bottom real good. I could cool my tires off and catch him, but without laying a bumper to him, it was going to be tough. I don’t like racing that way if I don’t have to. Jake’s a good kid and I’ve got a lot of respect for them. It was one of those things that you have to weigh your battles. Fortunately, I wasn’t willing to use my front bumper that soon. It’s so unfortunate that he had the flat tire when he did, because he had a really good car.”
Shepherd had another great run, scoring his second runner-up finish of the season. The long green-flag run didn’t play in his favor to catch the leaders, but he felt if he would have gotten one, the outcome would have been a little different.
“We would have been checkers or wreckers if there was a caution there at the end”, Shepherd chuckled. “If we would have got a caution, we definitely could have done something. We had a really good car and a really good team. I’m proud to be driving this car with all these amazing guys. I can’t thank them enough for this deal.”
Brandon Farrington had a solid run and his first top-five of the season. He ran in the top-five all day and maintained a solid pace, while battling Blaine Rocha, Cole Moore and others for the position. Overall, the Sigma Performance Solutions driver was pleased with the outcome in the heated contest.
“There was a lot of hard racing”, Farrington stated. “One of the great things about this series is that there is competition and battles whether you are first, last or anywhere in between. We kinda hung between third and fifth and we didn’t want to go too fast. I felt like the #22 (Shepherd) and the #43 (Thorn) were going a little quick, pretty early on. I didn’t really want to match that pace, or even try. 147 laps are a really long time. We started riding, but restarts really started to kill me about halfway through. Every restart was a battle to stay where we were. I never could really gain. With the season we have had to this point, third place is not a win, but it sure feels like it right now.”
The next event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series in Round #2 of the JM Environmental Short Track Shootout. The teams will race for $10,000 at Kern County Raceway on June 26th, were Thorn, Shepherd and Preston Peltier battled it out back in March’s Winter Showdown. It will be a must see event with a huge fireworks display also awaiting the fans.
- Derek Thorn, 2. Buddy Shepherd*, 3. Brandon Farrington*, 4. Blaine Rocha, 5. Kole Raz*, 6. Tracy Bolin, 7. John Moore, 8. Ross Strmiska, 9. Dean Thompson, 10. Zach Telford*, 11. Andy Allen, 12. Michael Sandoval, 13. Jacob Gomes, 14. Cole Moore, 15. Cale Kanke, 16. Scott Sanchez, 17. Carlos Vieira, 18. Kyle Neveau
-SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series Press Release and Photo