After taking a year away from Snowball Derby weekend, California’s Derek Thorn and the No. 43 Campbell Motorsports have announced that they are coming back in full force for the 51st edition in December. In preparation, Thorn and company have decided to make their return to Pensacola, Florida and Five Flags Speedway much earlier than in previous years, more than two months early in fact.


Thorn and his team have decided to race in preparation for Late Model racing’s ultimate prize, as they head east for the Night of Champions this Saturday, September 22 at Five Flags Speedway.


With the primary focus of Thorn being the 2018 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, where he leads the points at present, the Mike Keen-led team has taken the time to rebuild and rearm for a big end of the year run which will start and end on the Florida Gulf Coast.


“We have the cars ready and everything.  We just thought we’d take the time to get back there and get some track time before the Derby rolls around,” Thorn told  “Usually we come back about a week before and spend some time practicing and whatnot. This year we’re going to get in our track time in actual race conditions, give us a more realistic feel with the cars we want to race.”


Now when Thorn says cars, he is not just referring to a primary and a backup Super Late Model as race fans have been used to. This year, they are getting ready for double duty, running both a Super and a Pro Late Model, with chassis from Fury Racecars. This Saturday, Thorn will test them in action in the Deep South Cranes Blizzard Series 150 presented by Earnest Performance and Allen Turner Snowflake Tune-Up.


“We’ve got two new Fury racecars, a Super and a Pro. We’re going to attempt to run the Snowball and the Snowflake this year, that’ll be a new thing for us. We got the Fury’s put together not too long ago, no better place to shake them down than Five Flags. Pensacola changes every day, you can certainly expect the track to be different in December, but we’ll certainly make the most of what we got.”


Knowing the vast differences between Pensacola in September and December, the primary goal of this coming weekend is to get Thorn accustomed to the fast, half-mile oval after not attending the Snowball Derby in 2017. While they also want to come away with a solid baseline setup for both cars, Thorn wants to know what it will be like to race each new car in an actual race.


“When you show up cold turkey after being gone for a year, it takes a bit to get that line figured out there,” Thorn stated.  “As a driver when you run against a lot of good guys, you damn well better be perfect. To get to actually race a lot of the same guys you’ll race in December, I think is beneficial for myself and the team. Even though it’s different engines, the cars are the same, so to me it’s double the track time, and it allows us to find things faster as far as the setup, especially if we can apply it to both cars.”


Despite the ever-present danger of damaging one or both cars in the heat of competition, Campbell Motorsports is going in with no fear in their eyes. After a summer of battling mainly in the NASCAR ranks, Thorn is looking forward to returning to his longtime passion, and he is glad he still has the opportunity to do it with this tried and true West Coast operation that has carried him to multiple SRL Southwest Tour Series titles.


“I’ve always been fond of Late Model racing, especially with Byron and Carol Campbell.  They’ve always been awesome and have provided us with the best equipment possible for us to go out and run competitively. Our crew chief Mike Keen runs pretty much all the stuff at the shop, he puts his hands on all the nuts and bolts and makes these things go fast. We’re fortunate to have the group we have.”


Thorn is also eager to take on the same drivers that are favored to win both the Snowball Derby and Snowflake 100 that run Five Flags regularly.


“Late Model racing itself is pretty healthy, there’s always strong cars to run against anywhere you go. This Derby warmup event this weekend for Supers and Pros, you’re going to have a lot of great cars from all over. It’s great to run against the best and to push yourselves each week.”


Preparation aside, Thorn still has one underlining goal for both races on Saturday: winning.


“That’s the goal,” he said.  “I don’t think we’d be making the trip if we weren’t trying to win. We hope we can still learn something.  Pensacola is a unique racetrack, there’s no other place in the country you can run to simulate that facility. We’ll do our best, then go back Derby weekend and just take it one day at a time.”


Fans on the West Coast and all across the globe can see both the Southern Super Series/Blizzard Series Super Late Model and Allen Turner Hyundai Pro Late Model features live from Five Flags Speedway this Saturday on’s pay-per-view broadcast. Live video tickets can be purchased today by clicking here.


-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT

-Photo credit:

West Coast Star Traveling East for Snowball Derby Tune-Up