STOCKTON, Calif. – Much has been written about Derek Thorn’s acumen behind the wheel, and deservedly so.
In the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series alone, his record stands apart from any other driver in series history.
He leads the series in victories (51), top-five finishes (76), top-10 finishes (84), poles (60) money earned ($338,430), laps led (5,004), average finish (4.52) and qualifying average (2.25).
Thorn began his SRL career at Irwindale Speedway in July of 2009. It was an inauspicious start for Thorn, finishing 16th after motor issues sidelined him in the Dan Smith-owned car. Thorn was 23 years old at the time and was just beginning his journey to West Coast stardom.
“Time has flown by, and what stands out the most is how lucky I’ve been to be surrounded by great people,” Thorn said. “Byron and Carol (Campbell) have given me opportunities I’d otherwise only have dreamed of. Mike and Vicki Keen have been a huge part of the growth of Campbell Motorsports and helping me grow as a person on and off the race track.
“It is crazy how fast 100 starts have come and gone. I can guarantee I wasn’t thinking about marriage or having kids at my first SRL start and here I am well over a decade later with the love of my life and two crazy kids. The journey has been amazing and the people that have helped me along the way are what I cherish most.”
Thorn will join a list of four other drivers to achieve the 100 starts plateau in the series. Jacob Gomes leads the all-time starts list with 110, Scott Sanchez has made 109, Carlos Vieira has made 105 and Keith Spangler has made 102 starts.
“I feel like an old fart joining the 100 club,” Thorn joked.
With 13 seasons in the series, Thorn’s reputation as a driver has grown in conjunction with the growth of the series. It has given Thorn the opportunity to meet new people and create new friendships and partnerships.
He has seen the series go from perimeter chassis cars, which were the standard after the NASCAR Southwest Tour Series disbanded, to the offset chassis and rule sets that match the East Coast standards. It is a transition that Thorn appreciates when he visits some of the biggest races in the country.
“It’s what helped me get noticed,” Thorn said of the series. “Working at Joiners I met Dan Smith, who gave me my first start, which eventually opened the door to (Byron ) Campbell, (Bob) Strandwold, (Joe) Farre, and (Bob) Bruncati. As the SRL has grown, it has given drivers a platform to stand out on a national level. Over time it has gained more rapport amongst the rest of the country and continues to show a lot of talent and great teams, that when given the opportunity, can compete against some of the best teams around the country. Ricky Brooks (tech inspector) has been able to help merge the East and West on rules, which has made things easier to travel the country with the same car.”
Despite Thorn’s immense success in the series, and in super late model racing in general, he has had victories slip through his fingers on multiple occasions. Last December he finished second in the Snowball Derby at Florida’s Five Flags Speedway despite leading with less than 10 laps to go.
He was wrecked out of the lead at the All American 400 last October at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, a race he had completely dominated up to that point. He has also come close to winning multiple Summer Showdowns at Washington’s Evergreen Speedway. In SRL competition, he has had his fair share of disappointments as well, but he was philosophical about them.
“There’s always those races that slip through your fingers, or bad luck strikes at the worst possible time,” Thorn explained. “We’ve definitely have had a few of those in the SRL, but we’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to come back and have another shot at that particular track and race. Pikes Peak was an awesome place to go back to and get a win at, as well as getting our first Winter Showdown win, after having come so close a couple times.”
Thorn’s attention now turns to his 100th series start. In his first four starts at Stockton 99 Speedway Thorn was winless. He finally broke through in his fifth start at the track and has since rattled off six victories in seven starts, including a win in the ARCA Menards Series West.
“Stockton is a very humbling place to race,” Thorn said. “My first few starts there, I don’t think I finished. Everything happens really fast, and you never know what cards you’ll be dealt. We will go into it prepared as much as possible, and make the most of it.”