Derek Thorn’s resume speaks for itself.
The veteran West Coast short track competitor has enjoyed a copious amount of success during his long career with accomplishments that include 59 wins and six titles in the SRL Spears Southwest Tour to go along with his two West Series championships in 2013 and 2018.
Now 36, Thorn is embarking on a new challenge, as he is set to compete in the first Late Model Stock event of his career when the green flag flies at South Boston Speedway on Saturday for the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200.
Thorn’s decision to run South Boston deviates from his original plan to debut in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway. He sees the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 as an ideal way to gain track time against competition he will be facing later in the year.
“The end goal was to run Martinsville and the Thanksgiving Classic in November,” Thorn said. “There was an opening to run [South Boston], and we thought it was a good fit. The competition they’ll have at South Boston is what you’ll see at Martinsville, so this is a good way for me to get acclimated. I’m just looking forward to trying something new.”
FLORACING: Watch the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 live on Saturday
Even though he will be in an unfamiliar car Saturday, Thorn has grown comfortable racing against the best drivers from different regions of the United States.
Thorn regularly tests his luck in many prestigious Super Late Model events such as the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway, where he has developed a reputation as one of the best drivers who has yet to record a victory in the race.
The past couple of years in the Snowball Derby have seen Thorn narrowly miss out on checking off that box. Both races saw Thorn settle for second-place finishes after he led a combined total of 539 laps between the two events.
While Thorn remains determined to one day win the Snowball Derby, his current focus is to learn as much as possible about Late Model Stocks so he can put together a solid performance at South Boston with R&S Race Cars, which is co-owned by former NASCAR crew chief Marcus Richmond.
Thorn has been carefully studying past Late Model Stock races at South Boston to prepare for Saturday’s Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200. But he admitted he will not know exactly what to expect until he makes his first laps on track for practice.
“I’m going into this race open-minded,” Thorn said. “This is a completely different animal. We run a similar right-side tire on the West Coast with SRL, but from what I’ve gathered, [Late Model Stocks] are kind of like an ARCA car with an essence of Super Late Model mixed in. I’ll have to learn on the fly, but thankfully I’m surrounded by good people.”
Thorn believes having Richmond assisting puts him in a better position to find success against Late Model Stock veterans.
Having won races as a crew chief with drivers like Kevin Harvick, Noah Gragson and Johnny Sauter, Richmond has stepped back from that role in recent years to focus on R&S Race Cars, which he founded alongside former driver Steve Stallings with the goal of supplying cars to different organizations.
R&S Race Cars also manages their own in-house Late Model Stock operation. Their full-time car is currently driven by Toyota development driver Jonathan Shafer, with Thorn piloting the second part-time car beginning this weekend.
Richmond was thrilled when he found out Thorn was interested in competing for R&S Race Cars. He fully expects Thorn to find his comfort zone in a Late Model Stock and compete for a victory alongside Shafer on Saturday night.
“I know Derek’s never run Late Model Stocks, but he has run heavy cars out West,” Richmond said. “I think he’ll adapt pretty fast. We’ve been working on our South Boston setup a lot lately, and we know where we need to go, so I have no other intentions aside from winning this weekend.”
RACING REFERENCE: View Derek Thorn’s career NASCAR stats
Richmond added that having Thorn around R&S Race Cars is going to be beneficial toward Shafer’s development.
The amount of energy and passion Shafer has displayed since joining the program are two qualities Richmond believes makes him stand out amongst other young drivers. That’s why he believes Shafer will take full advantage of the opportunity to lean on Thorn for advice on how to keep improving.
With Thorn’s experience and Shafer’s determination, Richmond is looking forward to a successful weekend at South Boston that he hopes will conclude with either of his drivers nabbing the $10,000 race-winning paycheck.
“It’d be awesome to see Derek or Jonathan park their cars in Victory Lane,” Richmond said. “I’d love for both to just have a shot at the win. If they can do that, then our company, all my guys and our partners have done their jobs to make something like that happen.”
Although he shares Richmond’s expectations for the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200, Thorn said it will be a challenge to just qualify for the main event.
Nearly 50 cars have filed an entry for Saturday’s race. The top 30 starting positions are being determined by qualifying speeds, while the remaining 10 spots will be sorted out in a last chance qualifier, which both Thorn and Richmond know has the potential to get chaotic.
Qualifying is an area where Thorn has excelled in big races with three consecutive poles in the Snowball Derby. Despite this, Thorn has zero notes on how to navigate the fast speeds of South Boston, as the track underwent a repave since his lone start there in 2008 in the East Series.
Thorn anticipates time trials for the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 to be nerve-wracking, but he said responsibility falls on him to ensure his No. 43 PepperJack Kennels/Tool Shack/Nurti Source Toyota is fast enough to be competitive against veterans like Peyton Sellers, Bobby McCarty and Mike Looney.
“I’m just going to take it one day at a time,” Thorn said. “I’ve got faith in this program, but we just have to make the car as good as we can and learn as much as possible in a short period of time. All these guys on the entry list know what they’re doing, so hopefully I can absorb a lot of information and be fast on Saturday night.”
Thorn knows it will be an arduous task to contend for a top five in his first Late Model Stock appearance, but he considers himself fortunate to have an opportunity to drive for R&S Race Cars and continue a love of racing that was started by his parents Rick and Carol Thorn many years ago.
Following the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200, Thorn’s attention will turn toward the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 and the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park, which will pay $50,000 to the winner.
A win in any of these three events for Thorn would be another cherished accomplishment he can add to his prestigious short track resume.