Bakersfield, CA – Derek Thorn extended his win streak in the Spears Srl Southwest Tour Series by capturing his sixth victory in a row in the “Salted Metals 100 presented by Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse”, at Irwindale Speedway. But just like the three previous events, it was far from a cake walk, as he had to hold off John Moore, Dylan Cappello and then Blaine Rocha to secure the $10,000 victory. Cappello and Thorn fought for the top spot for most of the last half of the event, with a lap 95 caution potentially saving the five-time series champion, as he fought for all his worth to claim series victory #55.
“We will never know”, Thorn commented about the late caution that may have helped him secure the win. “I feel like I was doing a pretty good job of holding him off and he was doing everything he could. I think the next step would be to wreck me. You just don’t know. Luckily things worked out in our favor. I thought right there at that last little bit when we made contact, something happened to the car because it got real tight. All in all, we came here to win and fortunately, thanks to a great team, we did.”
20 Super Late Models appeared for Round #7 of the 2021 season with Trevor Huddleston earning his first SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Performance Friction Brakes “Zero Drag Fast Time Award”. Huddleston was coming off a record setting victory the previous weekend which made him the all-time winningest driver in Irwindale Speedway history. Huddleston led Cale Kanke Racing #33, Dylan Cappello, Dean Thompson, Jacob Gomes, Kole Raz and John Moore, with Thorn in the last starting order redraw position.
The redraw found Jacob Gomes sitting on the pole with Moore alongside. Thorn pulled the number “3” with Kanke lined up to his outside. The green flew with Gomes out to a quick short-lived lead as Thorn worked his way to the front on lap two. Lap 17 saw Moore supplant Gomes from the runner-up position, with Huddleston getting by the struggling 2015 series champion a couple of laps later. Moore began to close on Thorn, reaching his back bumper by lap 30, as both Dylan Cappello and Cale Kanke moved into positions three and four by the lap 32 Competition Caution.
A caution after the restart found Huddleston in the Turn1 wall after contact with John Moore, resulting in Cappello moving to second. The caution flew again on lap 39, when Huddleston’s teammate Dean Thompson blew a tire and pounded the Turn 2 wall, while running in the top-10. The only red of the night flew on lap 55 when hard luck racer Dan Holtz experienced a stuck throttle, destroying his brand new Super Late Model in Turn 3. Holtz was okay after the hard hit.
Upon the restart, Thorn jumped out to a quick lead, with Cappello, Kanke, Brandon Farrington and Moore the top-five. By lap 75, Cappello had made several dives off Turn 2, to get to the inside of Thorn. But Thorn was able to maintain the lead. The intensity picked up from that point forward, with Cappello constantly pulling alongside Thorn for the lead. Thorn would fight him off in Turns 3 & 4, with the duo making contact on multiple occasions. As Thorn struggled getting off Turn 2, Cappello would nose ahead, nearly clearing Thorn on numerous instances, looking to collect an extra $2,500 from Motor City Throwdown for beating the five-time series champion.
With Cappello appearing to have the upper hand and the faster car, Thorn and the “Hitman” raced side by side until the lap 95 caution, when Andy Allen spun in front of the lead duo. Cappello emerged with the lead, as the pair evaded the spinning Allen, but Thorn would restart in the number one position as the leader of the previously scored lap.
The final restart found Thorn leading Cappello, Kanke, Moore and a steady Blaine Rocha. Upon the wild restart, Cappello would get shuffled to fourth with three-wide racing throughout the top-five. Thorn was able to pull out to the lead, with the wild action behind him, with Rocha emerging in the runner-up position from fifth. Cappello was able to battle back by Kanke for third but ran out of laps to advance any further.
On lap 100, Thorn took his 55th series victory in a show of will and determination, with Rocha tying a season best second. Two-time Spears Modified Series Champion Cappello was third with Cale Kanke earning a career best fourth-place finish. John Moore scored his fourth career top-five, with Buddy Shepherd, Carlos Vieira, Jacob Gomes, Keith Spangler and Kole Raz rounding out the top-10.
After the race, all the buzz was about the battle between Thorn and Cappello for the rich win. The defense of which garnered Thorn the FLUIDYNE High Performance “Cool Move of the Race”.
“We were better than him in (turns) three and four and he was better in (turns) one and two, so it evened itself out”, Thorn recalled in his battle with Cappello. “He could get a great drive down the backstretch, but he couldn’t get up against me in three and four. He did everything he could. I think he was all the way up beyond the dotted line. I think we were both in the upper groove making it work. My car had really good drive off there. Unfortunately for him, he was better down there (Turn 2), and I was better down here (Turn 4)”
“Our car was so good from the red flag on” Thorn continued. “The car kinda got off a little bit at the end of the second to last run. I was just hanging on off two. When he got up to me, he was going to do everything he could do to get by me. I appreciate a guy that will do what it takes to pass me without wrecking me. He did just that. Hats off to this team! I always say the same thing every time, but Byron and Carol Campbell, Mike and Vicki Keen, and all these sponsors like Pepper Jack Kennels, 51 FIFTY LTM, Race for Autism, Power Grade and all of our associate sponsors like A.P. Brakes. These are all the people that help us maintain and do what we are doing. To have the win streak that we are on, I’m just enjoying the moment.”
Rocha had a great seat for the final run to the finish and emerged with his second runner-up finish of the 2021 season. The two-time SRL winner would have loved to see one more caution to get his shot a Thorn and a $12,500 victory.
“We had a good car the whole time”, Rocha began. “I felt like we were a little bit down on horsepower, but the racecar was solid. With the weekend we had, we really turned it around. Those last five laps were insane. I was running all the way down on the apron. We were running two, three and four-wide at one point. I drove as hard as I could right there. I wish I could have got one more restart to see if we could give Derek something. My car was really good there at the end. I’m happy with the finish. We are finally getting this new Rowdy / Hamke rolling pretty good. It took us a little while, but I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Cappello can only ponder what may have been, after giving Thorn all he could handle. He credits Thorn for helping him pick up his lap times, after observing the Bakersfield driver searching for speed himself.
“Once I took second, I was able to hunt Thorn down and learn from him” Cappello admitted. “He was searching around in (turns) one and two. That’s what got me searching around. I felt like we were really similar in (turns) three and four. But once I found a good line in one and two, I was able to get two car lengths in one corner if I really wanted it. Once I got to him it was a real barn burner. I wasn’t going to give it to him easy, that’s for sure. I really wanted that extra $2,500 (Motor City Throwdown Bonus).
After chasing down Thorn and appearing to have the faster car, the caution on lap 95 was a hindrance for Cappello. The restart didn’t work in his favor as both Rocha and Kanke were able to get by him in a three-wide battle, as he explained the final restart.
“I felt like with five to go, you just kinda got to go all-in. I went to the bottom a couple times in one and two, and it was like your front end isn’t fully loaded on a restart, I feel like it gets tight. I felt like my only play was to go to the outside. I got in there and got free under him and had to chase it up the track. It allowed two other guys to get under me and I stumbled my way back up to third. I feel I was better than the 98 (Rocha) at the end, but I just ran out of time.
Cappello continued, “We were better than the 43 (Thorn) on the long run and he was a little better for the first four laps. He could get five car lengths and settle into the clean air. Overall, I feel like we were the best car here. It is just a testament to the Garcia Racing Team. Mike (Garcia) has put together a really good team and a good car and Steve Teets does an awesome job of turning the wrenches and setting it up and getting it to where I felt really comfortable in the car.”
The next event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series is Round #3 of the JM Environmental Wild West Shootout at The New Stockton 99 Speedway. The August 14th event will feature the possibility of the second highest winner’s purse of the season. With the “To the Back Challenge”, the $10,000 winner could pick up an additional $15,000. If a driver can beat Derek Thorn, they will grab another $2,500 from the “Motor City Throwdown Challenge”. All told, the “JM Environmental Inc. Wild West Shootout – Touch Too Much 227 presented by 51 FIFTY LTM.” could pay out $27,500 to the winner. It will be a hot contest on the historic ¼-mile oval.
1. Derek Thorn, 2. Blaine Rocha, 3. Dylan Cappello, 4. Cale Kanke, 5. John Moore, 6. Buddy Shepherd*, 7. Carlos Vieira, 8. Jacob Gomes, 9. Keith Spangler, 10. Kole Raz*, 11. Tracy Bolin, 12. Scott Sanchez, 13. Andy Allen, 14. Bob Lyon, 15. Brandon Farrington*, 16. Dan Holtz, 17. Dean Thompson, 18. Trevor Huddleston, 19. Dylan Garner*, DNS; Andre Prescott
* Rookie of the Race: Buddy Shepherd