In 2021, Derek Thorn had his best career season of racing, winning his sixth championship in the Spears Srl Southwest Tour Series, as well as sitting on the pole for the Snowball Derby and the Snowflake 100 from 5 Flags Speedway, winning the latter. It was the most dominant season in the 21-year history of the SRL, where Thorn set new records for both season and career success. His nine victories, set a new standard, along with $90,700 in race winnings, nine top-five’s (tied with Jason Fensler and Thorn), and number of races led with 10. His career achievements marked improvements over most of his own career records, which included Wins (58), Top-five’s (83) Top-10’s (91), Fast Times (63), Laps Led (5,501), Money Won ($412,930) and of course his sixth championship.
Thorn’s 2021 season was by any measure a great success. His nine SRL wins were backed by Fast Times at 5 Flags Speedway in the “Snowball Derby” and the “Allen Turner Snowflake 100”. His “Snowball” Fast Time set a new standard for the event, with three in-a-row. His victory in the “Snowflake 100” was his second win, while he finished runner-up in the “Derby” for the second year in-a-row. Thorn also headed to Evergreen Speedway for the “Summer Showdown” for Super Late Models, as well as the Pro Late Model portion of the event. Thorn led the most laps in the “Summer Showdown”, but a broken suspension part at the ¾-mark left Thorn fourth at the finish. The Pro Late Model feature saw Thorn in the inside tire barrier, less than a hundred yards from the finish, as he battled Preston Peltier for the win. Still his season was phenomenal.
“2021 was our best season yet”, Thorn proclaimed. “It was awesome to see big paydays at a lot of races last year. We still have that “Summer Showdown” that’s eluded us all these years and lately the “Derby” has been the same way. We continue to grind away at trying to be the best at what we do, and stay on-top of a sport that is constantly evolving.”
With his sixth series championship, Thorn broke the overall Southwest Tour Series championship mark, which he shared with Jim Pettit II. Pettit earned three in the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series and two in the NASCAR Southwest Tour. Thorn competed with Pettit head-to-head from 2010 to 2013, winning the championship in 2012, with Pettit scoring the 2011 and 2013 crowns, after Thorn missed two events in 2013. During those seasons, Thorn garnered 16 wins to Pettit’s seven.
“I just feel fortunate to have had the opportunities I’ve had with Byron, Carol (Campbell) and Mike and Vicki (Keen)”, Thorn conveyed. “It’s amazing to win six championships, but every one of them had its own hurdles. The years racing with Pettit were some of the most fun times, and he’s had an amazing career. Just to be on the championship list, whether it’s one or 10, is an honor and a huge accomplishment.”
For Thorn, each of his six championships were special. In 2012 he defeated rival Jim Pettit II. 2014 found Thorn beating another rival, Jeremy Doss, by a mere nine points. His third championship found Thorn beating Ryan Cansdale by 96 markers in 2016. The following year he defeated runner-up Ricky Schlick. His last two championships, in 2020 and 2021, saw Thorn win over teammate Carlos E. Vieira and 2015 champion and close friend Jacob Gomes. But the significance of the last two triumphs were special for reasons off the track.
“I am not sure I can say one is more meaningful than others, but I do feel that the last few have been special, in regard to having my wife and kids there for them”, Thorn expressed. “Those will all be great pictures and memories down the road.”
Thorn has been a mainstay in the series since 2010. He has missed only 10 events over the last 12 seasons, and now has 106 starts in the series, which puts him fourth on the all-time series ledger. His only non-fulltime seasons saw Thorn score a third and then two championships in the now ARCA Menards Pro Series West. His growth in the SRL series has seen Thorn and the Campbell Motorsports team progress into the number one ranked Super Late Model team in the country in 2021.
“The SRL has been a big part of my racing career the last 12 years”, Thorn stated. “It’s been a platform that’s allowed me to grow as a driver and has given us notoriety and exposure on a national level. Campbell Motorsports has had an amazing 10-year run in the SRL, and it’s translated into us having one of the best teams in the country. Also, Ricky Brooks stepping into the series a few years ago really helped bridge the rules gap from east to west. It allowed us, as a team, to be on the same page as the rest of the country.”
At the end of the past decade, Thorn was voted to be one of the top-10 short track drivers in the nation of the decade, by Speed51.com (now racing America). He was one of only two drivers from the Asphalt Super Late Model category, along with Bubba Pollard. The modest driver, from the small town of Lakeport, CA, readily acknowledges his success stems from his Campbell Motorsports team, and his relationship with long-time Crew Chief Mike Keen. But in addition, he also admits much of his success is due to some of his strengths beyond wheeling a Super Late Model.
“The team and equipment are the biggest factors”, Thorn explained about his success. “Byron gives us everything we need, and Mike and I have built an amazing relationship over the last decade. My feedback, and ability to feel the car, I think is one of my better strengths. And Mike’s ability to know what to adjust to get the most out of the car is key.”
After all his success in a Super Late Model, on both the east and west coasts, the question is asked of Thorn about his aspirations of moving up to the big three divisions of NASCAR. The Bakersfield, CA driver would certainly entertain the thought of making the jump, if the right circumstance for his family and himself were right. But he is also happy with what he is currently doing, and the prospects it has created for him in the racing world.
“Racing and working in the industry is how I pay the bills”, Thorn stated. “I’d entertain any idea if it made financial sense. But moving up in the big three takes a tremendous amount of financial backing. I have been beyond fortunate to be where I am and have the opportunities I’ve had. I feel like I’m in the prime of my career. If the opportunity ever came up with the right situation, it would be definitely fun to give it a shot.”
Thorn has worked hard over the years to achieve the level of success he has ascertained. He has shown dedication to his team, and to his abilities both behind the wheel and behind the wrenches. Thorn is a hands-on driver, as he works on the car himself both at the shop and at the track. He is a rare breed in today’s world of racing, but he is also grateful for his opportunities, and for those who have given him a chance to prove himself over the last decade.
“My first thank you is the Campbell family; “Byron, Carol, Blake, and Brady Campbell”, Thorn began. “They’ve allowed me to live out a dream that I thought would never be possible. I’m so thankful for Mike and Vicki Duke Keen, for 10 years of amazing support. I’m thankful to our posse; Sal Arceo, David Coley, Andy Worley, John Michael Reeves, Adrian Arceo, Dave Reeves, Darrell Abbott, Ronnie Beam, Matthew Philpott, Bryan Brown, Tom Gibson, James Murillo and Jacob Gomes.”
Thorn continued, “We have some amazing sponsors that have been behind us for years, helping this be possible. They’ve become not only great sponsors but great friends along the way. I’d like to thank Pepperjack Kennels, Power Grade Inc, Double Eagle Transportation, 51 FIFTY LTM, AP Racing Brakes, Reeves Complete Auto Center Inc., Darrell Abbott, Family Funeral and Cremation, FURY Race Cars, Delosso Family Farms, Swift Springs, Magnus Performance Products, K1 Suits, JRi Shocks, Tilton Engineering, Hightower Transmissions, Joes Racing Products, Victory Circle Chassis & Custom Fabrication, FinishLine Signs, Performance Parts Supply, West Air, Strange Oval, Bassett Racing Wheel, Peters Racing Engines, and Butler Seats.”
Thorn will look to continue that success in 2022. He will begin that quest at the $25,000-to-win “All-Star Showdown 200” at Irwindale Speedway on February 5th. After winning in the inaugural return of the prestigious event in 2020, it was the only blemish on his 2021 SRL campaign, finishing 26th in the 44-car field. It will certainly be another challenge that he looks forward to, as he continues to improve upon an impressive career in the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series.
P.C. Sal Sigala Jr.
Celebrating its twenty-first season in 2021, the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series is a regional stock car series competing on paved ovals in the southwestern portion of the U.S. “The SPEARS Southwest Tour Series…Where the Champions Race”.