2012-2014-2016-2017 SERIES CHAMPION – Derek Thornadmin
In the Spears Srl Southwest Tour’s 20th season, we have been looking back and honoring our former series champions. As we look back to the 2012 season, we reach a certain future West Coast Hall of Famer. Derek Thorn scored his first, of a record, four SRL Championships that season. He went on to score those additional championships in 2014, 2016 and 2017. The two-time ARCA Menards West Series Champion has become the West Coast’s most dominant driver over the last decade, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Thorn has now run his SRL starts total to 88, sixth on the all-time list. He leads the series in wins (42), top-five’s (66), top-10’s (74), Performance Friction Brakes Zero Drag Fast Time Awards (56), Laps Led (4,159), and Money Won ($276,278) among others. The driver of the Campbell Motorsports Super Late Model currently leads the 2020 SRL standings after winning the All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway. His legacy in the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series is well established, as the SRL’s Brian Olsen stated.
“Derek has joined a long list of storied champions in our series, but to have four championships is remarkable. The level of competition in the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series rivals that of any Super Late Model touring division in the country, so when you win a championship, you’ve really accomplished something. The fact that Derek has done it four times in his career is a credit to his talent and the commitment of his Campbell Motorsports team. He’s been a great ambassador for the series and to see his success outside of the SRL (2X NASCAR K&N Champion, 2019 Snowball Derby Pole, 2019 Snowflake Win to name a few), has been a treat to watch.”
Thorn began his SRL journey in 2009, with a single start at Irwindale Speedway. It was an inauspicious start, with a 16th place finish after motor failure. His 2010 and 2011 seasons produced five combined wins, finishing third in the standings both seasons. It was in that 2011 season that Thorn got together with a car owner that changed the progression of his racing career. It led to his first SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Championship and a record-breaking adventure to follow.
“I had run a few races in 2011, with Byron Campbell and Mike (Keen), but 2012 was our first attempt at a full time run in the SRL”, Thorn stated. “To win it in our first year together, with Campbell Motorsports, was a huge statement to how strong the team was.”
Thorn had had success before getting together with Byron Campbell, but the Lakeport, CA driver was a diamond in the rough, for the now successful car owner. Thorn had two Outlaw Kart championships as well as a NCRA-Lakeport Speedway Track Championship in the Street Stocks by the age of 16. He was the Rookie-of-the-Year in the Modifieds at Lakeport, the following year and the Shasta Speedway Modified Champion in 2004, winning eight events. In 2005 he went Super Late Model Racing with his families’ team, in the North State Challenge Series. He was always fast, setting quick time in half of the series events that first season. He finished third in the championship standings, after winning three events, but failed to find the constancy needed for a championship.
The 2006 season found Thorn in the championship runner-up position in the North State Challenge Series. He finished behind future rival Jeremy Doss’ father, Mike, for the second year in a row. But Thorn began to branch out with his racing that season, finishing second in the North vs South All Star 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway (TN) and fourth at Octoberfest in LaCrosse Speedway, WI.
In 2007 he moved to the Midwest and competed in the ASA Late Model Challenge Series. Thorn showed his potential early, by scoring a victory in the second race of the season at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. He followed it up with second and third place finishes. But consistency, and two penalties while leading, cost him the Rookie-of-the-Year title and a shot at the championship, finishing fifth. But his union with Byron Campbell, and Campbell Motorsports, resulted in a change of perspective. It taught the talented racer how to finish off a championship effort.
“My driving style has changed since I started driving for Byron”, Thorn recalled. “In years prior I had made too many mistakes behind the wheel, to be consistent enough for a championship. “When Byron and Mike came into the picture, they helped me in so many ways. Byron has helped me on and off the track to become a better person, and give me opportunities I never thought possible. Mike and I have developed a great relationship over the years and there is nobody better I know at preparing a car and making sure it’s ready to go the distance each race. That’s the key to championships, speed is important but you’ve gotta have the consistency to go with it.
It is surprising to learn that the driver, who was voted one of the top-10 Short Track Drivers of the Decade by Speed51.com, felt unease about his lack of championships between 2004 and 2012. It was therefore very special to Thorn when he scored his first SRL Championship two years into the decade.
The first one (championship) in 2012 was the most memorable for me”, Thorn explained. “It was a huge sigh of relief to be driving for Byron and get my first championship since 2004 in a Modified. I think I had a combined 6 years (a couple part time years in there) of full-time competition without being able to seal the deal on a championship. It just made 2012 just that much sweeter.”
It was after that season Thorn went on a roll. Four SRL Championships, two NASCAR West Series Championships, three consecutive Snowball Derby top-10’s, a Snowball Derby Pole and a Snowflake 100 victory was just the beginning. Thorn has three pole runs in the Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway, and a victory in 2017. He had a victory in the $15,000-to-win Open Comp at the LVMS Bullring and Dirt Track. His big SRL wins include the $15,000-to-win Spears Manufacturing Colorado 100 from Pikes Peak International Raceway, and the $25,000-to-win “Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown” at Irwindale Speedway. He has two Pro Late Model wins at the “World Series of Asphalt Short Track Auto Racing” at New Smyrna Speedway, and an ARCA Menards Series West victory at Sonoma Raceway on NASCAR Cup weekend.
During those big seasons in the SRL, Thorn developed multiple rivalries in the series, as drivers tried to knock him off the top spot. To Thorn, however, his most memorable rivalry was with a three-time SRL and two-time NASCAR Southwest Tour Series Champion, who gave him his biggest challenge for the crown.
“Jim Pettit II for sure”, Thorn admitted. “We had some spirited battles over the years. I have a lot of respect for Jim and what he’s accomplished in all his years of racing. We had a lot of races we were battling for the win with one another.”
Will Thorn get SRL Championship number five in 2020, to tie Pettit for the most Southwest Tour Series Championships in history? Only time will tell when we get back to racing in the 2020 season, for the Speed51.com.Short Track Madness Western and Canadian Regional Champion.
The next event, on the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series schedule, is a trip to Roseville, CA. Last year’s event at ALL AMERICAN SPEEDWAY – ROSEVILLE CA was a thriller, with the 2020 edition promising to be just as exciting. The “JM Environmental 127 presented by 51 FIFTY LTM.” will take place on May 16th, and will pay a minimum of $7,000-to-win. A $5,000 bonus will be available to any driver who qualifies in the top eight, and elects to start in the back. If that driver wins, they will head home with a $12,000 victory. In addition, John Moore will give each driver who makes the feature race, a “black bad a** cowboy hat, made by Lonestar. It’s a hat that makes you look handsome and sexy at the same time”, commented Moore.