DEREK THORN TOPS SPEARS SRL 100 @ IRWINDALE – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Jun. 6 – Bakersfield resident Derek Thorn, a three-time touring stock car series champion at age 29, dominated the only 2015 appearance of the Spears Southwest Tour Series Saturday at the half-mile Irwindale Speedway. The “Spears Manufacturing 100 presented by Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse” attracted 2,865 spectators and a field of 21 cars. Thorn, who originally raced out of Lakeport, drove the Campbell Motor-sports/Four Star Fruit Ford-bodied No. 43. He won $4,000, including $1,000 added by Edelbrock Performance.
Thorn, 29, won the 2012 and 2014 Spears SRL driving championships for the Campbell team. He also won the 2013 NASCAR K & N Pro West Series driving championship at the wheel of the No. 6 Sunrise Ford-sponsored Ford Fusion owned Bob Bruncati. Thorn increased his SRL Series all-time main event win total to 23, eight more than the second place winner, Jim Pettit, II. It was his third SRL victory of 2015 and first in a SRL Irwindale feature. “I've finished second in SRL races here a bunch,” he said during post-race comments. He also has won NASCAR stock car features at Irwindale driving for Byron and Carol Campbell.
At Irwindale Thorn's mastery was evident in practice sessions and during afternoon time trials. Thorn circled the six, nine and 12-degree progressively banked oval in a new track record time of 17.543 (102.605 mph). He topped the second quickest qualifier by 0.179. Thorn eclipsed his own SRL track record of 17.635 (102.070 mph) that he set on July 17, 2010. It was the eighth SRL premier division race at Irwindale since 2008. Five drivers have won those races, including two in the field Saturday.
Fastest qualifier Thorn's Irwindale victory came from his inside row five starting position after nine was the inverted start number drawn. He reached third place on lap 9 and second on lap 24. Thorn took the lead on a lap 35 two-abreast restart following a caution flag for debris. Thorn shot to the inside in turn two and passed laps 9-34 leader Brandon White, 18, from Eureka. Thorn won by 0.477 over eighth starter Greg Voigt, from Goleta. Voigt, the August 16, 2014 SRL Irwindale 100 winner and Irwindale's 2000 NASCAR Super Latte Model Champion, took second position on lap 42. He pressed Thorn all the way, but fell ten yards short at the 11:04 pm checkered flag.
RED FLAG: The featured SRL race started at 9:58 pm. It was red-flagged for 24 minutes after a lap 73 collision between dueling SRL veteran Ross Strmiska, of Manteca, and SRL rookie Christian McGhee, a 16-year old Irwindale stock car veteran from Claremont. They had just exchanged sixth place. Then side-by-side contact at the starting line sent Strmiska's pink No. 90 spinning into the first turn crash-wall just past the pit entrance. The car swapped ends and slammed with a loud impact into the concrete wall on the drivers' side. It stopped near the wall.
Track emergency crews arrived promptly and removed the windshield. They also cut off the roof to remove Strmiska safely. The injured driver was conscious and able to move his extremities according to rescuers. He was taken by Los Angeles County Fire Department ambulance to a hospital for medical tests and observation overnight. He was released the next day.
The SRL 100 ran 30 rapid all-green flag laps with leader White turning the fastest race lap at 99.449 mph. Then the first of four yellow flags for debris or two-car spin-outs sidelined four cars. SRL counts only the first three caution laps. White brushed the fourth turn wall, causing debris and the first caution. He maintained his speed and the lead, which ended after the lap 35 green flag.
The official finish showed 16 of 21 starters still racing at the finish. SRL rookie point leader Ryan Cansdale, 16, of Laguna Beach, started seventh. The 2009-10 INEX Bandolero Irwindale champion, has moved from legend cars, to S2 and NASCAR late models successfully from 2011 through 2014. He drove the No. 31 HPR Chevy with veteran-level skill Saturday on his home track. Cansdale pressed Voigt closely for second during the final 25 laps. He finished a SRL career-best third, only 1.099 in back of runner-up Voigt and 1.576 from winner Thorn.
Third starter B. White, who will graduate from high school in Eureka next week, earned fourth place in his family No. 19 Five-Star Bodies composite Chevy Impala SS. He trailed the winner by 2.843 seconds despite feeling ill all day and racing with a 101-degree temperature. He received attention from the track ambulance crew for dehydration after the race. He drank bottles of water at the starting line infield instead of being interviewed after the top five finishers stopped for post-race interviews.
TOP TEN: Colby Potts, from Stockton, started fourth and finished fifth (-3.599). Blaine Rocha, from Oakdale, started second, led the first eight laps and finished sixth. Keith Spangler, a 45-year old SRL veteran from Chatsworth, started 17th and raced to P. 7. Jacob Gomes, pole starter/SRL rookie Parker Stephens, from Olympia, WA, and Carlos Vieira completed the top ten.
Bakersfield native Austin Reed, now racing out of Mooresville, N.C, M. K. Kanke (an 11-time SRL winner and three-time SRL Irwindale winner), Scott Sanchez and Tracy Bolin also completed all 100 laps in P. 11-14 respectively. Kanke's 23-year old son Cale, also from Frazier Park, started his first Spears SRL Tour race as a RPM Motor-sports teammate of his 2009 SRL champion father. Cale, a SRL Legend Car veteran, ran 99 laps for 15th position.
The four racing divisions event also had the SRL S2 Series (stock cars built by Jeff Schrader's Racecar Factory in Irwindale), and Irwindale Race Trucks racing on the half-mile. Both groups ran 40-lap main events. The INEX Legend Cars also awarded SRL Legends points and raced on the four-degree banked third-mile oval. A large field of 25 drivers competed, including 11 rookies.
S2 CARS: All eight S2 cars present raced with a three-car inverted starting lineup based upon qualifying times. S2 point leader Johnny Butler, from Arcadia, led the first lap from pole position. Outside front row starter/Encinitas resident Ron Nava (not related to car owner Joe Nava) made his first start in a S2 car memorable. The middle-aged street stock car racing veteran at Cajon Speedway (closed in 2004) executed an inside pass on lap 2 entering the front straight and led laps 2-40. He edged FQ/third starter Dylan Garner, from Yorba Linda, by 0.530.
Butler's son waved the green flag in the elevated starters' stand to start the race. He remained there and watched his dad finish third, 2.377 seconds off the lead. Cory Elliott and Bill Waters finished fourth and fifth and raced all 40 laps. New S2 driver Henry Hodges, father of SRL driver Bobby Hodges, logged 39 laps for P.6. Irwindale late model stock car veterans/S2 newcomers Todd Conrad and Craig Yeaton dropped out on lap 19 with mechanical problems.
LEGEND CARS: The 35-lap legend cars race had a five-car inverted starting lineup, putting 2010-11 Irwindale track champion/fastest qualifier Chad Schug, 28, inside row three. Donny St. Ours, 21, led the first six laps after starting second. Fourth starter Ricky Schlick, 18, led laps 7-24. Schug, who won Irwindale's May 16 event, passed Schlick on the inside exiting turn four for the lead he kept to the end.
Darren Amidon, the 2007 and 2013 Irwindale and 2012 SRL Legends champion, used an inside move entering turn three and passed Schlick three laps from the finish for runner-up honors. Schlick, the 2013 SRL Legends champion, was third. St. Ours and Jordan Hyland finished fourth and fifth. Eighteen of 25 starters finished with 13 drivers on the lead lap. The race started all 11 series rookies near the back. Schug increased his Irwindale track points lead from four to 12 points. He ran the fastest race lap of 16.322 (73.447 mph) and won by 0.433 officially via electronic timing/scoring.
TRUCKS 40: The always racy Irwindale Race Trucks had 17 trucks present, with most of them in the hands of veteran drivers. When the checkered flag fell a new racing star was born officially. The 5'3”, 95-pound Riley Herbst, a 16-year old sophomore at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, drew raves all night. The 2015 rookie truck racer drove to second fastest qualifying time. Then he won the 40-lap main in a thrilling duel with fastest qualifier/point leader Connor Cantrell, the 2011 Irwindale super truck champion.
Herbst, whose grandfather Jerry founded the 380 gas station Terrible Herbst chain after WW II, drove his No. 19 Toyota Tundra. Riley's father Troy bought the No. 48 Steve Latina-owned truck that Ryan Partridge drove numerous wins and the Irwindale track championship last year. Off-road racer Troy was racing his off-road vehicle in the annual Baja event and did not witness his son's first victory on a half-mile. Riley has won several legend car main events at his home track, the three-eights mile “Bullring” at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Partridge offered advice to Riley at Irwindale on a weekend off from his 2015 racing on the NASCAR K & N West tour.
Lucas McNeil, 22, led the first 11 laps from the pole. Sixth starter Cantrell, 24, made an inside pass in the fourth corner and led laps 12-23. A six-truck crash occurred at the second turn exit, necessitating a red flag for track clean-up. On a two-by-two restart Cantrell selected the outside row. Herbst shot from the inside immediately and led lap 24. Cantrell recaptured the lead on lap 27, but a caution flag reverted the lineup to the lap 26 running order. Herbst held a five yard advantaged over Cantrell until lap 36 when the former leader moved within a truck length for a passing attempt.
On the white flag lap the battling leaders encountered two lapped trucks entering the first turn. Herbst wisely went to the outside and cleared both trucks by turn two. Cantrell shot to the inside and under a lapped truck driven by rookie Mark Perry, Jr. Their trucks made side-to-side contact. Cantrell's Chevy spun 360 degrees on the backstretch and continued forward slowly as P. 3-5 trucks barely evaded the back of Cantrell's truck. Runner-up McNeil trailed by 2.976 seconds with Luis Martinez, Jr. third. Point leader Ken Michaelian placed fourth, but his point lead dropped from 10 to four points over second ranked Herbst. Jeff Williams took fifth. With 13 of 17 starters running, slow-moving Cantrell crossed the finish line 11th, last driver to complete every lap. McNeil ran the fastest lap of the race--19.825 (90.794 mph)--while leading early.
The next event at Irwindale Speedway will be the second “Night of Destruction” event plus NASCAR late models on Saturday, June 20.