(March 21, 2021 from Kevin Peters) – Five-time SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series Champion Derek Thorn has had a long history of being snakebit, when it comes to prestigious Super Late Model events. While he has victories in some of these events, he has been in position to score multiple more over his career. Saturday night, he picked up a big win at his home track, scoring $10,000 in the Sixth Annual “Winter Showdown 150” at Kern County Raceway. He joins Bubba Pollard as the only two-time winner of the event, after holding off 2018 runner-up Buddy Shepherd, 2014 ARCA Menards Pro Series West Championship Runner-up Dylan Lupton, three-time Summer Showdown winner Preston Peltier, and 2015 SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Champ Jacob Gomes.
Despite leading nearly every lap, it still wasn’t a win without concern for Thorn, as misfortune was lurking at seemingly every corner of the racetrack. As the event neared it’s close, Thorn began to feel like the race may get away from him, as so many have, due to misfortune.
“I think I had a flat tire”, Thorn estimated. “The last two or three laps, the car all of a sudden started to do some weird stuff. The Winter Showdown, any Showdown, or any big show like this, we always seem to be snakebit. I’m glad we were snakebit (at the end), because it all counted. We were able to complete all 150 laps and I can’t thank all these guys enough.”
Thorn continued, “It really took a long time to get to two (Showdown victories). I was telling Mike (Keen), with about 25 laps to go, that it is always something with these Showdowns. Those restarts really didn’t help at all. But luckily Mike made some great changes at the halfway break for the last 75 laps. We were kinda able to get the lead, and the car stayed strong, even with all the heat cycles on the tires. I can’t thank Byron and Carol Campbell enough. We had a hard start to the year and didn’t have any luck at the All-Star Showdown. Fortunately, this was only 150 laps.”
The win was special for Thorn, as he remembered one of the racing communities’ biggest supporters in the Bakersfield, CA area. James Vernon was a key piece to the puzzle, when it came to the creation of Kern County Raceway, after Mesa Marin Raceway was closed. Without his input, it is doubtful the new state of the art facility would have been built. After his passing last week, Thorn dedicated his victory to the Vernon family, and his friend James.
“This win was for James Vernon, Thorn exclaimed! “One final ride around Kern County Raceway. It was an honor to know him and an honor to know the family. It was awesome that he was getting to ride with us, and it was a big special moment for all of us.”
Saturday’s Winter Showdown found Preston Peltier drawing first blood, by setting the “PFC Brakes Zero Drag Fast Time Award”, at 17.526 seconds around the ½-mile “D” shaped oval. He just beat out Dan Holtz for the honors by 0.016 seconds. Thorn, Jacob Gomes, Buddy Shepherd, Dean Thompson, Christian McGhee and Tracy Bolin rounded out the top eight qualifiers, who then redrew for position in the Fast-Qualifying Heat.
For this event, the SRL ran Heat Races for positioning in the “Winter showdown 150”. Christian McGhee was able to score the win in the Fast Heat to earn the Pole Position in the feature. Derek Thorn drove from seventh to finish runner-up and earn the desirable outside pole position. Dylan Lupton won Heat Race #2 to start ninth, with Carlos Vieira victorious in the Heat Race #3 to start 10th.
At the drop of the green, Thorn and McGhee battled side-by-side for two laps, before Thorn established the lead. Buddy Shepherd began his strong run, getting by McGhee several laps later to begin chasing down Thorn. By the lap 22 Competition Caution, Holtz had moved to third, as Shepherd had moved to the back bumper of Thorn. On the restart, McGhee was able to move back into third as Thorn and Shepherd separated themselves from the field.
In the meantime, Peltier was making his way forward from eighth starting, and Dylan Lupton from ninth. The quartet of McGhee, Holtz, Peltier and Lupton kept the fans entertained, racing side-by-side and nose to tail. Peltier finally made his move to third just before lap-60 as the fast-paced race proceeded caution free. By that juncture, Peltier led Holtz and Lupton, as McGhee began to fall back.
When the teams reached the halfway break, Thorn was awarded $5,000 for leading, as half the purse money was paid out at that time. Shepherd continued in second followed by Peltier and a rapidly improving Dean Thompson, Kyle Neveau, John Moore and Jacob Gomes, who had fallen to 18th after getting in the marbles at the opening salvo. Blaine Rocha, a fading Dan Holtz and Dylan Lupton completed the top-10.
At the break, teams were able to change four tires and make adjustments, which played into the hands of the Campbell Motorsports Team and their driver Derek Thorn. Upon resumption of the event, Thorn pulled out to the lead, but Peltier was able to muscle by Shepherd. He then moved Thorn in Turn #1 to complete a pass for the lead. Thorn returned the favor in Turn #3 and emerged with the lead on lap 78, moving Peltier back to fourth. From that point, Peltier began to regain his momentum, getting back by Thompson, and setting his sights on the lead duo.
The field ran to a debris caution on lap 97, with Thorn leading Shepherd, Thompson and a charging John Moore. Lupton was back up to sixth with Rocha, Kyle Neveau, Holtz, and Gomes the top-10. Another restart found Peltier getting by Shepherd, but with another green flag run, Shepherd was able to get under Peltier to regain the runner-up position.
One of three red flags came out on lap 127, as Dan Holtz hit the back stretch wall hard, skating down into Turn #4 where he came to a stop. He was making a pass of Thompson for fifth, when the right rear of Holtz hooked with the left front of Thompson. Holtz was shaken, but otherwise okay. Thompson continued on.
The ensuing restart was pivotal however, as both Peltier and Thomson got into the marbles in Turn #1, dropping them to 13th and 14th before a quick yellow for an Andy Allen spin on lap 131. The character of the race once again changed when on the following the restart, contact between a recovering Jacob Gomes and John Moore sent Moore hard into the front stretch wall, for a red flag on lap 133. Moore was unhurt, but upset with his fellow California Central Valley racer, expressing his emotions to the former series champion on the front stretch.
Another restart found the field running to another red on lap 143, when Bob Lyon spun. As the field tried to avoid the spinning driver, three cars were eliminated, with Jim Wulfenstein getting the worst of it. The restart found Lupton getting by both Gomes and Shepherd in the preferred upper groove for second, with Peltier charging to fourth a few laps later. In the meantime, Shepherd went to work on Lupton, in a battle very reminiscent of his 2018 Winter Showdown runner-up finish to Kyle Busch. In that event Shepherd battled side-by-side with Daniel Hemric to secure the position. Saturday, Shepherd used several inside moves to finally clear Lupton with two to go, earning the Fluidyne High Performance “Cool Move of the Race”.
But in the end, it was Thorn who scored the $10,000 victory in front of his new hometown crowd. Shepherd came home a strong second followed by Lupton, Peltier, Gomes, Kyle Neveau, Blaine Rocha, Christian McGhee, Cale Kanke and Dean Thompson.
Shepherd was pleased with his second-place finish, but he still wondered what could have been without all the cautions over the last 23 laps, after what had been a clean race before.
“It was a good race out there” Shepherd recalled. “It was just that those cautions at the end kept hurting us. I think we were better than him on the long run. It just seemed it was about getting by the 54 (Peltier) and the 4 (Lupton) on the restarts. We had to stick it out the first couple of laps for the car to come back in. The cautions just killed us tonight.”
Shepherd continued, “We had a really good car there, we just needed 4 or 5 laps to fire off. I think if we didn’t get all those cautions in the last 75, the outcome would have been a little different. It’s so hard to get right on the bottom, where a guy can pinch you down and not give you much room. But overall, I think we did a good job.”
Shepherd recalled the battle with Lupton over the last seven laps, as he was trying to also chase down Thorn.
“I was trying to get back by him as soon as I could”, Shepherd stated. “I just needed a couple of laps for the car to come in. I knew we were better than the #4 (Lupton) and I thought we were better than the 43 (Thorn) at the end. I just needed to get by and get behind the 43 to really work on him. I just only had a couple of laps to do it in. We will get him next time.”
Lupton was also pleased with his result after he faced tire issues in the first half of the event, dropping him nearly outside the top-10. The same issue also arouse late, in the 150-lap event.
“It was a fun one, but it was really up and down for me”, Lupton began. “We had a little bad luck at the end of the first half. We had contact with another car and had a right rear go flat. We also had the same thing happen in the second half and our right rear was gone. We fought a few handling issues, but I feel great, battling with Shepherd and Thorn at the end. We are getting a good handle on this car, and we are making good strides. We will keep it up and try to get them next time.”
In a bakers dozen starts for Lupton in the SRL, he is still looking for his first victory. The team is getting closer, but he knows they will have to be on their game to score the elusive first series win.
“It is tough! We missed it just a little in qualifying, and we were a tenth off, and we were 11th. You have got to be on your game here. Everyone is fast here. You definitely have to have all your cards aligned to get a win in this series. It makes it fun. Hopefully, we will keep getting better and better and we will have some more fun.”
The next event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series will be at Irwindale Speedway on April 10th, which will be the third of 10 championship events. Peltier will take a 10-point lead over Buddy Shepherd into the event.
1. Derek Thorn, 2. Buddy Shepherd*, 3. Dylan Lupton, 4. Preston Peltier, 5. Jacob Gomes, 6. Kyle Neveau, 7. Blaine Rocha, 8. Christian McGhee, 9. Cale Kanke, 10. Dean Thompson, 11. Austin Thon*, 12. Dylan Garner*, 13. Brandon Farrington, 14. Keith Spangler, 15. Tracy Bolin, 16. Bob Lyon, 17. Kole Raz*, 18. Scott Sanchez, 19. Cole Moore, 20. Jace Hansen, 21. Jim Wulfenstein, 22. Andy Allen, 23. John Moore, 24. Corey Neveau*, Dan Holtz, 26. John Dillon, 27. Carlos Vieira
*Rookie-of-the-Race: Buddy Shepherd
Coleman Power Sports Charger: Dylan Garner
Fluidyne High Performance Cool Move of the Race: Buddy Shepherd