Derek Thorn usually shows uncanny control driving on any type of asphalt racing track, whether it’s a tire-shredding short track, a thrill-ride superspeedway or a curling road course.
But his lone experience on the historic 5/8-mile oval at Evergreen Speedway at last year’s NASCAR Pro West Series stop in Monroe was a wild ride.
Coming down the main straightaway of a practice lap, a tire blew on Thorn’s car and he slammed into a wall.
“The thing lost all turnability,” Thorn said. “Going at least 100 mph … it was the hardest wall hit in my life. I got a little muscle memory from that.”
With his primary car banged up, Thorn drove the team’s backup car to a third-place finish in the 2012 main event.
The 27-year-old from Lakeport, Calif., comes into this year’s NAPA Auto Parts/Evergreen 150 at Evergreen Speedway as the man to beat, winning a series-best three races and leading the championship points race.
His consistency has been remarkable. In all eight NASCAR Pro West Series races this season, he has never finished outside the top five.
With 201 career racing starts on asphalt, ranging in mini-stocks, street stocks, late-model stocks, modified stocks and now stock-car racing – he has 168 top-10 finishes.
Included in that is 54 victories – eight coming between the NASCAR Pro West Series and Southwest Tour this season.
“I don’t really know how that’s happened, because I grew up on dirt,” Thorn said. “It’s been a transition. I may have a lot of top 10s now, but I used to do the ‘Ricky Bobby’ thing (from “Talladega Nights”) where I was going to get to the front of the pack in a hurry, even if that meant tearing off fenders along the way.”
Since joining owner Bob Bruncati’s Sunrise Ford racing team at the end of 2011, Thorn has settled down. In 2012, Bill Sedgwick, a former two-time NASCAR Pro West Series champion (1991-92) who also drove on the NASCAR Truck Series, was hired as Thorn’s crew chief.
“These teams, not only in the West Series, but on the Southwest Tour … are more laid back and reserved,” Thorn said. “That has allowed me to calm down behind the wheel.”
Racing for 150 laps at Evergreen Speedway requires a certain level of patience, especially early in the race on saving tires
“Lap 40 or 50 is where you start picking guys back up,” Thorn said. “It is a balancing act there, but that fits my style, and Bill’s style, too – racing on tracks that do not have a lot of grip.”
NASCAR PRO WEST SERIES
What: NAPA Auto Parts/Evergreen 150 (ninth of 15 races)
Where: Evergreen Speedway, Monroe.
Schedule: Practice is from noon to 2 p.m. Qualifying starts at 4:15 p.m., and the 150-lap main race is at 6 p.m.
Defending event champion: Eric Norris.
Skinny: The points chase is bunched up at the top, led by California driver Derek Thorn, who has three victories this season – and has finished in the top eight in all races. Thorn’s lead is 12 points over Michael Self, of Park City, Utah. Self also has three wins. … Last year’s NASCAR West series champion was teenager Dylan Kwasniewski, who was the runner-up to Norris at Evergreen Speedway. Kwasniewski has since moved to the NASCAR East Series. Replacing him in the Gene Price-owned Ford is another teenager – Canadian Cameron Hayley, 17, who is third in points. Hayley’s crew chief is Yakima’s Jeff Jefferson, a former NASCAR Northwest Series stalwart. … Greg Pursley, last year’s pole-sitter in Monroe, won the NASCAR West’s previous race – the Pork Be Inspired 150 at Iowa Speedway on Aug. 2. Pursley won the series championship in email@example.com Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@ thenewstribune.com