With two wins and no finishes worse than eighth all year long, Derek Thorn put together an impressive campaign en route to taking home his second NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Championship in 2018.
The California native spoke about his success, as well as his Late Model experience recently with POPULAR SPEED.
POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on the championship?
DEREK THORN: Pretty excited about it. Bob has been running full-time since I last drove for him in 2013, my first year back with him. Obviously at the beginning of the year, we sat down and came up with a plan and everything came together. We didn’t get as many wins as I hoped for, but we were in contention for wins each and every week. It’s pretty cool to be champions for 2018.
PS: What was the most memorable moment for you from the season?
THORN: I think the wins are always nice, but really stands out for me and what I was most excited about was the couple races that we ran at Iowa and Gateway. In years past whenever I went to a track of that size, three-quarter of a mile range, I struggled back in 2013. We were able to come back this year and we ended up second at Iowa, and third at Gateway. So I was just really proud of the team for hunkering down and getting our big track up to speed. It was nice to go to those bigger tracks and be competitive.
PS: You were consistent all season long. How much work goes on behind the scenes that fans don’t realize?
THORN: It all starts with the team. Bob Bruncati has a great couple of guys that have been with them for a long time in the shop. Obviously the equipment needs to stay underneath you to be running at the finish, and I think that’s the root of that consistency. They’re just there each and every week. I feel the guys did a great job in the shop and consistency is hard to come by.
I think a lot of lady luck is involved, as well. There are random things that happen throughout the season that if not for a little luck on our side, we could’ve ended up on the flip side of where we ended up. So I guess you have to take that in account, but just a fortunate season that all the races came together and the car stayed in one piece and things worked themselves out.
PS: You mentioned 2013. This year, or 2013 – which championship was harder for you?
THORN: I feel like this one would’ve been considered more difficult. 2013, we had a season under our belt – Bill Sedgwick and I; in 2012, we kind of had a warm-up so to speak. Obviously, we were shooting for the championship then, as well, but able to regroup and come into 2013 and swallowed the learning curve. We then had a five-year hiatus where Bill McAnally Racing won three or four of the last years, championship-wise. So going into this year, that was the team to beat and I felt like we had a lot of ground to make up ourselves to just compete with them.
The three crew chiefs that were on this program, which was Bill Segwick, Jeff Schrader, and Clinton Cram – having those guys work together and share notes. There were some practices where we didn’t end up as happy as we needed to be, and between all of them and our teammates, we borrowed some of their stuff as it was working for them. I feel that dynamic kind of helped, catapult our team up to where Bill McAnally was. Being that we started off the year trying to play catch-up, it was pretty cool that we were able to take the ball and run with it just being our first year back together.
PS: I know we just got done 2018, but the discussions have already begun about 2019. What can you share?
THORN: 2019 and beyond as far this program, I don’t think I’m a puzzle piece as to what they’ve got going on. I’m not sure they have everything figured out yet. It was a one year deal with Bob and he gave me a great opportunity. I have a great opportunity here in Bakersfield to run with Brian Campbell Motorsports, racing Super Lates. So I’m hoping 2019 is more super late model racing, racing here in the southwest portion of the States and getting to run races like the Snowball Derby, All American 400, Winchester 400, the Winter Showdown. I may not be in NASCAR, but hopefully 2019 is still a lot of racing, just super late model stuff versus K&N Pro Series.
PS: You mentioned the Snowball Derby. Is this year in the cards for that?
THORN: That’s what we’re working on right now, as we speak. We are running the Snowball race which is a 300-lapper, and then going to the Snowflake 100 as well with another car. I’m excited to go back there and run against what I consider some of the best teams in the country, and kind of like a big finale – sort of like the Daytona 500 so to speak. It’s great to go down there and size yourself up against the best in the country.
PS: When it comes to Late Models, what’s your favorite track to run across the country?
THORN: I think the Music City Motorplex has a special place in my heart. It’s one of the first tracks I’ve been to that was a little bigger and suited my driving style. But Nashville, and then Kern County here in Bakersfield. They’re both similar in size and shape, but those two tracks and the way they drive, they definitely top the list.
PS: How did you get started in racing?
THORN: My dad got me a go-kart when I was eight.
PS: Who would you consider your racing hero?
THORN: My dad. I think just growing up, looking back and the times that we got to share together at the track and everything he put in to allow us to go to the track each and every week. It’s a financial strain, emotional strain, and a physical strain, and I feel like he and my mom both always stand out as being there for me regardless of the situation. They’re always there to make it happen.
PS: If you offer one piece of advice to kids coming up through the ranks right now, what would that advice be?
THORN: Find your stride. As drivers get older – some don’t, but some do get wiser and well-rounded. Just make sure yourself with good people. Racing, just like any other sport, if you don’t have good coaches or mentors, it makes it tough to progress. Some young drivers have the talent and ability, but don’t have the people around them that are promoting and progressing them as a driver. It’s one of thing that you see young drivers that are green and kind of hot heads, and maybe a little quick to draw. But surrounding yourself with good people is something that some people overlook.
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