Derek Thorn (43) battles Jacob Gomes in the opening laps of Saturday's SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour race at Irwindale Speedway. (Steve Himelstein Photo)
Derek Thorn (43) battles Jacob Gomes in the opening laps of the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour race at Irwindale Speedway. (Steve Himelstein Photo)

KENNEDY: A SPEARS Tripleheader At Irwindale

LOS ANGELES – The SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour super late models, SPEARS Modified Series and SPEARS Pro Late Model Series visited Irwindale Speedway on July 17.

It was the third race at Irwindale in a 10-race season. Drivers came from six states — Arizona, California, North Carolina, Nevada, Oregon and Utah. The popular tripleheader attracted 5,500 spectators. The super late model series had 20 cars, but lost one during Friday night’s practice sessions, so 19 cars started the 100-lap feature on the progressively-banked half-mile.

The pro late model class had 13 cars, which was about seven cars down from the last visit to Irwindale. Orange Show Speedway had its season opener in San Bernardino under a new promoter, so some drivers raced for points at their home speedway. There were 16 modifieds. Both SPEARS support series raced 60-lap features on the four-degree banked inner third-mile. A demo derby with 10 minivans and aerial fireworks concluded the evening at 9:58 p.m.

Five-time SPEARS super late model champion Derek Thorn, 35, earned the nickname “Superman” given to him by infield announcer and promoter Tim Huddleston during post-race interviews with the top-five finishers. Thorn, the eighth fastest qualifier, drew starting slot three when the eight fastest drivers drew starting positions during a 45-minute autograph session. It was held under the main grandstand instead of on the front straight because of the heat. Drivers stood in the shade next to their cars or sat at a long table and signed their photo cards.

Thorn, an annual top qualifier and contender for victory at the Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Fla., led all but the first lap. He had to work harder than usual for his record 55th SPEARS super late model victory. He earned $10,000. He was the subject of a first-time bounty in the series. A firm in Bakersfield offered a $2,500 bonus to any driver who could beat Thorn in one of the final four races. So the Irwindale winner could earn $12,500 by defeating Thorn. If he is not defeated in the final four races Thorn will collect the $2,500 himself.

Thorn said he is flattered by the bounty offer and welcomes new money in the series, which scheduled 10 races this season at five speedways in California. Irwindale hosted one in February with 44 cars present for the 200-lap All-Star Showdown. It also hosted event three in April with 29 super late models. Event seven this month had 22 entrants and 20 cars present. The final three races will be in Stockton, Roseville and Bakersfield from Aug. 8 to Oct. 23.

Bakersfield resident Thorn, aboard the Campbell Motorsports No. 43 Toyota Camry, has won six consecutive features after experiencing a problem in race one this year and losing laps. There have been four point leaders including Thorn, who took the series point lead after his victory June 26 in Bakersfield. The July 17 race, considered the most exciting Spears race ever at IS, was shown live by SPEED SPORT TV affiliate Low Budget TV. The MAVTV Network will show it on a date to be determined.

The purse attracted Dylan Cappello, formerly from Peoria, Ariz., and now living in Charlotte, N.C, where he works as an engineer for Front Row Motorsports NASCAR No. 38 Ford F-150 driven by Todd Gilliland. With no truck races from July 9 to Aug. 8, Cappello, 25, was free to resume his driving career. He was a frequent Lucas Oil Modified Series winner and champion in 2014 and had only raced a super late model twice late last season in Las Vegas and Bakersfield. SPEARS super late model car owner Mike Garcia offered him his No. 57 for the Irwindale event. Cappello accepted the chance to race at Irwindale, where he had been successful in modifieds.

Cappello started next to Thorn in row two. The race had three yellows and a red flag on lap 55 after a stuck throttle caused Dan Holtz to slam into the turn three wall. At lap 70 Cappello was a car length behind Thorn. From lap 84 to 94 the two leaders raced side-by-side and made contact at times on the backstretch and in turns. Cappello was faster in the first two corners while Thorn was quicker in turns three and four. Cappello’s right rear fender was even with Thorn’s left front fender at times on the backstretch but he could not complete the pass before turn three.

Things got wild during the final six laps. A car spun out leaving turn four and stalled near the crashwall with the battling leaders approaching. Thorn slowed briefly to avoid the stalled car and Cappello raced by him as the yellow flag waved. The lineup reverted to the last green lap order. Thorn (outside) and Cappello (inside) took the two abreast restart. Thorn held the point as Cale Kanke took second from Cappello, who had a better long run car.

Blaine Rocha, the 11th starter, was in sixth position at the lap 94 caution, He ran the low groove and took third from Cappello a lap later. Rocha, 23, passed Kanke for second on lap 97 as Thorn opened a 15-yard lead over drivers racing three and four-wide. Cappello retook third from Kanke on lap 98. Thorn beat Rocha by 1.294 seconds. Cappello was 1.480 seconds behind Thorn and Kanke trailed by 1.893 seconds. John Moore, a close second from lap 15 to 32, placed fifth, 1.935 seconds off the lead. Sixth through 11th completed 100 laps. Fourteen drivers finished the 49-minute event, excluding time lost under the red flag. Thorn ran the fastest lap of 17.888 seconds (100.626 mph).

The other main events went to Jeremy Doss, 24. He drew the pole in the pro late model race and led every lap in his father Mike’s No. 75 for a $3,500 check. It was his fifth victory in seven races. Doss drove the No. 75 Eddie Wilcox STR chassis and was the third leader in the modified race. He led laps 37-60 for his sixth $1,000 victory in seven modified mains this season.

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