Georgia has a good habit of producing some of the finest asphalt Late Model drivers in the southeast and beyond. From Jody Ridley and Ronnie Sanders to Bubba Pollard and Chase Elliott, the Peach State has been the home to some of the most successful short track racers in the country.
This year, young faces have shown promise and one name that stands out is Riley Thornton. In only a handful of starts, Thornton has shown success at several venues and it looks as if his first win will be right around the corner.
“It’s been an adjustment for sure,” said Thornton. “Last year we were in trucks and Late Models have been a change.”
After winning several Late Model Truck races in 2013, including the Snowball Derby Truck event at Pensacola, Florida’s Five Flags Speedway, Thornton made the move to Late Models this season and is working with fellow Georgia driver Bubba Pollard.
“I don’t think there’s anyone better to learn from,” said Thornton. “He’s just about the best of the best. So he’s just trying to teach me everything he knows. From working on the car and everything. So he runs this program. He gets me where I am.”
Thornton has run six Late Model races this season and has been in the top 10 each time out. At the Lee Fields Memorial at Mobile International Speedway (AL), he finished on the podium for the first time. He then took a fourth at Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Georgia a few weeks later.
Pollard has been racing in the same events so Thornton is not being coached along the way on the track during the events.
“It’s just such a weird feel the first time you get in a Late Model compared to a truck,” said Thornton. The corner speed is so different then the trucks and that’s what was hard at first. The Late Model is so much faster in the corners. They’re a lot different. They’re nothing alike really.”
The transition has gone smoothly for the 17-year-old driver from Peach Tree City, Georgia. When he’s not on the asphalt, Thornton can be found on the dirt. He has a handful of Crate Late Model starts on the area Georgia dirt tracks.
This season is really just a matter of Thornton getting his feet wet. Plans for 2015 are up in the air, however he knows where he wants to be.
“We’re not really sure,” said Thonrton. “If I had my way I’d be running Super Late Model. We are just going to see how it goes and play this year at by the end of the year and how I’ve progressed before we make any big decisions or anything.”
Thornton run the Allen Turner Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway on December 6th, one of the most prestigious Pro Late Model races in the country.
– By Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Operations Manager. Twitter: @Elgin Traylor