Bakersfield, CA – Derek Thorn Racing made it five wins in six Spears Srl Southwest Tour Series starts in 2021, with a thrilling win in the “JM Environmental Inc. Wild West Shootout – Get It Hot 75” from Kern County Raceway Park Saturday night. Thorn used a little contact in Turn 1 on lap 62 to wrestle the lead away from Buddy Shepherd, and take the $10,000 victory in front of a nice crowd at the Bakersfield, CA ½-mile oval. It was the second event in-a-row that found Thorn and Shepherd with contact with Thorn in Victory Lane, as the five-time SRL Champion described.
We dogged the 22 (Shepherd). “Me and him were running first and second for I don’t know how many laps. This place is track dependent, line dependent and aero dependent. The body that they run, it just moves so much air, it’s so hard to get next to them. I worked him as patiently and cautiously as I could, for the first 45 laps. He let me get up underneath him and we got a good run up off of (Turn) 4 with my left side to the line. I don’t know if it is that body or what, but I stayed in the groove in the middle, and he tried coming down the hill a little bit and that car bounced off like a ping pong ball. I don’t know what’s going on there, but I just can’t thank these guys enough. It’s Byron, Carol and the team, hometown, first time back full of fans. Fireworks were awesome, car was awesome! I had the best car all night, it just took a minute to get to the lead.”
Thorn was a fan of the shorter 75-lap race distance on this night, as the fans not only witnessed fireworks in the sky, but also on the track.
“I think the 75-lap format was a good thing” Thorn conveyed. “I think everybody ramped it up a little bit, tires held on good, the family was here to watch. It was cool to be able to do that and have an action-packed race for the fans. To be able to bring home first place, the car is still in one piece, and we are able to go to the next one.”
The day started off with Jacob Gomes claiming the Performance Friction Brakes “Zero Drag Fast Time Award”, with a lap of 17.478 over the 24-car field. Kole Raz, who was quickest in Final Practice, put his Sigma Performance Services Super Late Model in the second position followed by Christian McGhee Racing, Brandon Farrington, Buddy Shepherd, Carlos Vieira, Blaine Rocha, and Derek Thorn, as the final redraw participant. The top-eight then redrew for position for the “Fast” Heat, which was to set the stage for the Main Event line-up.
Brandon Farrington drew the number one position and led all 10 laps of his Heat, to earn the pole for the Feature Event. Odd and Even Heat races were run for the remainder of the field, with Kyle Neveau winning the “Odd” Heat and Dylan Lupton taking home the “Even” Heat. Those drivers would be scheduled to start ninth and tenth respectively.
In the unique event format, the “Wild West Shootout” gave drivers, who qualified into the top-eight, the opportunity to start in the back for an extra $10,000-to-win. The lone driver to take that option was Claremont, CA driver Christian McGhee, who garnered himself a whole new set of fans. Therefore, the drivers behind McGhee all moved up one position and Farrington would lead Gomes, Raz, Rocha, Thorn, Shepherd and Vieira to the green flag.
Farrington got a good jump at the start, but Fast Qualifier Jacob Gomes was all over the 2021 Rookie-of-the-Year candidate. A quick caution came out for a big wreck on the back stretch on lap two involving Kyle Neveau, Dean Thompson, Dylan Lupton, John Moore, and Ross Strmiska, with Rocha also dropping out of the action.
Farrington chose the preferred upper groove on the restart, but Gomes battled hard on the bottom, taking the lead on lap three, as Farrington slipped up the track in Turn 4. Buddy Shepherd was able to slip through, between Gomes and Farrington, taking the lead by lap four of the feature, earning him the FLUIDYNE High Performance “Cool Move of the Race”, when the yellow flew again.
Thorn, who was up to fourth, was able to take advantage of the restart to move around both Raz and Gomes, who were stuck in the lower groove, to take the runner-up position. The field ran clean to the lap 20 Competition Caution, with each position in the top-four under assault. The restart found Shepherd and Thorn side-by side for multiple laps, as Thorn led lap 21, before Shepherd was able to nose in front. Raz had moved to third, from the fourth position, and the top-three ran under a blanket with Thorn repeatedly nosing under Shepherd for the lead. Shepherd was able to lead lap 27, picking up an extra $1,000 from John Moore and JM Environmental Inc.
Lap 38 found the caution flying again, as sparks flew from the #71 of Christian McGhee, who sustained a flat tire, ending his run from the back. McGhee had progressed up to seventh, but the resulting damage ended his night and his bid for a $20,000 victory.
The final restart found Shepherd, once again, slowly nosing ahead, with Gomes taking advantage of the high line and moving back to third. The top four ran in close formation, with Thorn and Raz constantly sticking their noses inside of Shepherd and Gomes. The two-thirds mark found the top two finally gaining nearly a second of separation on the battle for third, with Thorn nudging the left rear quarter panel of the leader.
On lap 62, Thorn was finally able to get up to the door panel of Shepherd heading into Turn 1. Thorn and Shepherd made contact, shooting Shepherd up the track in Turn #2 for the winning move. Gomes was also able to move by, as Shepherd squeezed into third in front of Raz. Thorn was able to hold off Gomes over the remaining laps, as Shepherd and Raz pushed Gomes for position. On lap 75, Thorn was able to claim the $10,000 winner’s share in a one second victory over Gomes. Shepherd was third followed by Raz and Carlos Vieira, who scored his first top-five of the season. The second five consisted of Cale Kanke, 2019 SRL Champion Cole Moore, Austin Thom, Farrington, and Bob Lyon.
Buddy Shepherd was disappointed to finish third, but he recalled the pass to take the lead early, and the positives that came out of the race.
“Those guys were racing hard, and it looked like the 25 (Farrington) slipped a little bit and got free in (Turn) 3”, Shepherd recalled. “We got three-wide there and we had a good race. We had a good car, a fast car. I can’t thank everyone who is behind me on this thing enough. Butch and everybody for coming out here. We are little guys trying to keep up with these big guys. It’s tough and we are definitely making strides and getting better every week. There are a ton of positives from tonight. We would have won, but if that is how we have got to race, that is how we have got to race.”
Shepherd continued, in regard to the battle with Thorn over the lead.
“He was trying to take us out going down the straight-a-way four or five times, just underneath me and underneath me. Going down the straight-a-way it’s pretty uncalled for. At the end of the day, we were fast. He drove it in there (into Turn 1) not really caring. I ran him clean all night, just out front doing my own thing. We were fast and he kept lifting us up, and lifting us up, so we couldn’t get out on them (Gomes and Raz). I guess I just know how we need to race heading to Irwindale.”
Gomes was pleased with his second-place finish, but felt he needed a little bit more grip to run with Thorn and Shepherd, especially as the race ran down to the finish.
“We struggled a little bit today”, Gomes began. “We were a little tight and then a little loose. We just couldn’t get the power down. Just everybody else seemed to have a little better off, but it was fun. The car was going away as we were going along, and I was holding back as much as I could and letting them battle, when they were battling side-by-side and I was cooling it off. When they (single) filed it out, I’d get back in it and I was just trying to do everything I could to make up time. I just didn’t have enough.”
Gomes spent most of the event battling with Kole Raz, for the number three position. It was a battle he enjoyed with the rookie-of-the-year competitor.
“I have a lot of respect for that kid”, Gomes stated. “He raced me clean the whole time. I enjoy racing with people like that. You give each other room and don’t beat and bang, it’s just fun and I really respect it. It was a good run.”
With the win, Thorn jumps to the top of the championship board. Shepherd will find himself 13 markers back, with Jacob Gomes will remaining in third, 46 points behind Thorn. Kole Raz will solidify his fourth-place standing and Cale Kanke will remain fifth.
The next event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour will be at Irwindale Speedway for the $10,000-to-win “Salted Metals 100”. The series has drawn 44 and 29 cars respectively for the first two events at Irwindale.
1. Derek Thorn, 2. Jacob Gomes, 3. Buddy Shepherd*, 4. Kole Raz*, 5. Carlos Vieira, 6. Cala Kanke, 7. Cole Moore, 8. Austin Thom / HossPower Racing *, 9. Brandon Farrington*, 10. Bob Lyon, 11. Tracy Bolin, 12. Cory Neveau*, 13. Andy Allen, 14. John Dillon, 15. Dean Thompson, 16. Scott Sanchez, 17. Andre Prescott, 18. Christian McGhee, 19. Ross Strmiska, 20. Dylan Garner Racing*, 21. Dylan Lupton, 22. Blaine Rocha, 23. Kyle Neveau, 24. John Moore