Story by Kevin Peters of SRL Media
BAKERSFIELD, CA – When it comes to the best in the Spears Srl Southwest Tour Series, no conversation can start without mentioning the name Derek Thorn. Thorn has been the most successful driver in the series history and has been recognized as one of the top-10 short track drivers of the last decade, according to Speed51.com. Thorn will take his act to the Sixth Annual Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway on March 21st. He will look for his second win in the event, as well as solidifying his name as one of the best short track drivers in the country.
Thorn has an incredible 42 SRL victories in 88 starts, to go along with his four series championships. He has 66 top-five and 74 top-10’s, as well as 56 career “Performance Friction Brakes Zero Drag Fast Time Awards”. Equally, if not more impressive, is his record of finishing events in his Campbell Motorsports Super Late Model. Since 2009, Thorn has finished all but eight events, for a 91% finishing rate. His car has been almost bulletproof. But those numbers are reduced, when it comes to marque events in the Super Late Model, mostly due to bad luck.
Even so, Thorn has multiple big wins, which include the $25,000-to-win SRL Winter Showdown, the “Allen Turner Snow Flake 100” at 5 Flags Speedway, the $15,000-to-win Open Comp at the LVMS Bullring and Dirt Track, the $15,000-to-win Spears Manufacturing Colorado 100 from Pikes Peak International Raceway, the $25,000-to-win “Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown” at Irwindale Speedway as well as two Pro Late Model wins at the “World Series of Asphalt Short Track Auto Racing” at New Smyrna Speedway. He also has an ARCA Menards Series West victory at Sonoma Raceway on NASCAR Cup weekend.
Photo courtesy of Horsepower Project by Michele Martin Photography
But Thorn could have several additional big wins, as bad luck and uncharacteristic mechanical issues have followed him in extended distance events. At the 2019 Summer Showdown, he lost a motor while leading, with 44 laps to go. He also fell victim to a flat tire in the 2017 edition, rendering him two-laps down, with arguably the fastest car. The 2019 Snowball Derby, at 5 Flags Speedway, saw him put to the rear, on a late race controversial race control call. Thorn was leading the 2016 Winter Showdown, when rear end issues sidelined the four-time Spears Srl Southwest Tour Series Champion.
He has also finished runner-up in some of the biggest races in the country. Those include twice in the All American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, the Summer Showdown, Winter Showdown, Las Vegas Open Comp and Southern Idaho 222 at Magic Valley Speedway to name a few. As he heads to the 2020 Winter Showdown, Thorn hopes to stem the tide of misfortune and score his second Winter Showdown victory, if his luck holds out.
“It’s hard to predict luck, but we’ve been fortunate to win some big races, and look forward to trying to win some more”, Thorn told the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series. Byron Campbell and Mike Keen have a great thing going, and we will take it one lap at a time, and hope we have a shot at it at the end.”
When it comes to the extended distance, high-paying events, Thorn recognizes that the team has had more misfortunes, percentage wise, than at a standard 100-lap show. But he also recognizes that they have had fewer opportunities to participate, with a schedule of only a few per season. Thorn and the team just try to do the best they can, with the challenges they are given.
“We just try to make the most of the hand we’re dealt each race”, Thorn reasoned. “We end up running more 100 lap shows throughout the year, so there is more opportunity to win those, versus the few big races we run a year. We show up as prepared as we possibly can be, and try to make the most of every opportunity.”
The 2020 version of the Winter Showdown will feature 200 laps of racing, with a break on lap 100 for tires, fuel and adjustments. Half of the purse structure will be paid out at that point, to encourage hard racing to the halfway break. The teams will then race to lap 200, for their final finishing order. It is a unique format that is sure to produce exciting racing throughout the event. But it could be a challenge for the drivers to keep their tires under them, for 100 laps.
“Kern is a tough place to pass, and with the tire problems we’ve had here, it just makes it that much tougher”, Thorn assessed. “Track position helps, and with this format, it should shake things up a bit, and hopefully make for some good racing.”
With a possible $15,000 on the line, Thorn is looking forward to competing at his new home track. He has already scored seven SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series event victories, in addition to his Winter Showdown win on the ½ mile oval. The two-time ARCA Menards Series West Champion is happy to compete against a strong field of competitors, in front of his team’s hometown fans.
“Most of our team is from Bakersfield”, Thorn stated. “We’re looking forward to putting on a good show, in front of our friends and family. It’s looking like a great field of cars will be there, we will just take it a day at a time, and try to get our car where it needs to be, and hope the right side tires can stay in one piece.”
Photo courtesy of Horsepower Project by Michele Martin Photography
The 2020 schedule for the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series is filled with big paying events. Each of the 10 races payout the possibility of $10,000-to-win minimum. Thorn has been with the series since 2009, when he made his first start at Irwindale Speedway. He has seen the series grow over the years, and is happy to see the big paying events on the schedule.
Thorn explained, “The SRL has continued to grow over the last decade, and to get the support from series sponsors, to put on these big events, is awesome to see. Hopefully it’s a sign of great things to come for the competitors and fans.”
To win as many races as the Campbell Motorsports Team has, it takes a good organization from top to bottom. They have a great owner, driver, crew chief, crew and sponsors that make the program possible. Thorn is thankful for each part of the equation that makes it possible.
“Byron and Carol Patrick Campbell have an amazing team, and have given me an opportunity of a lifetime to do what I love. Mike and Vicki Duke Keen are a huge part of the success of this program. Mike makes the cars haul butt, and Vicki makes sure everyone on the team is well fed, and taken care of. Sal, Steve, and Adrian are on it every weekend. We couldn’t do it without our sponsors: H and M Motorsports, Santa Maria Brewing Co, Double Eagle Transportation, 51 FIFTY LTM, Dave Reeves, and Reeves Complete Auto Center Inc., Family Funeral and Cremation, AP Racing Brakes, Advanced Racing Suspensions, FURY Race Cars, Swift Springs, Triple R Transportation, Hightower Transmissions, Joes Racing Products, Victory Circle Chassis & Custom Fabrication, FinishLine Signs, Performance Parts Supply, West Air, Strange Oval and Joiner Motorsports.
The 2020 Winter Showdown, from Kern County Raceway, is entering its sixth season of competition. It is supported by Spears Manufacturing, Motor City Buick GMC, Traffic Management, Inc.. and Visit Bakersfield. The previous winners of the event include Bubba Pollard Fan Page (2015, 2016), Derek Thorn (2017), Kyle Busch (2018) and Ty Majeski (2019). The previous Feature Events have included several formats, with distances of 250 laps (2015 – 2017), 300 laps (2018 – 2019) and this year’s 200-lap version.
In 2020, the event will feature a halfway break, where half of the purse money will be awarded based on its’ result. The completion of 200 laps will wholly determine the final championship event finish, with the second half of the purse payout. Drivers eligible for the SPEARS Frequent Flyer Program will receive a minimum of $1,400 to start the feature. If required, eligible drivers who do not transfer from the Last Chance Qualifier will receive $1,000.
The SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Super Late Models will be joined by the Spears Modified Series, as well as the Kern County Raceway Super Stocks. The Spears Modified Series will be racing for $4,000-to-win. The event will be Nationally televised on MAVTV, at a date to be named later. It will be Live Streamed on https://spearsracing.tv/