Super Late Models
Inside the Chandler Smith, Derek Thorn Bump-and-Run
Dec 6, 2021
Preston Peltier has spent so much of the past three years working to defeat Derek Thorn and Campbell Motorsports that he may have beat himself on Saturday night in the All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway.
The defending race winner had led the most laps by Lap 125 and had just retaken the lead from his west coast rival when he slipped in Turn 4 and drilled the outside retaining wall. His Sigma Performance Services No. 48 was destroyed, and Thorn led comfortably the rest of the way.
Even though Thorn was starting to apply the pressure again, this wasn’t even a mistake born of defensive driving but Peltier arguably unnecessarily getting ahead of himself with 75 laps still remaining.
"I hate to admit it, but I bottomed out," Peltier said. "There's a pretty big bump getting into (Turn) 3 and I was flirting with getting too high. I kept trying to move that line up, and I was comfortably riding there when I hit that bump, and when I landed, I felt some stuff hitting the bottom of the car and knew I was in no man's land and it snapped."
Peltier called it a 'rookie mistake' and something a champion of his caliber shouldn't have done.
"Here's the thing," Peltier said. "I was just riding there and there was no reason for me to run that high. We're always looking to clean a line and try move some chess pieces around for the future. I just wanted some options because I knew Derek was pretty good on the top. The later in the run we got, I thought it was going to be beneficial to run up there, and I got popped."
Thorn has won six Southwest Tour championships and is the most dominant figure of the region over the past decade with two other NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championships on his resume. The only two blemishes on his schedule last year was a loss to Peltier in the All-Star Showdown and the disappointing finish to the Snowball Derby in December.
He got one back on Saturday but wishes he could have done it by defeating his good-natured rival head-to-head.
"I'm just pumped that it came together," Thorn said. "We battled with Peltier for the first half of the race, and I'm not sure what happened to him, but it would have been a good race either way.
"I'm just proud of this team. We had a good run all the way through the Derby, even though it didn't end as we hoped. To come here and win our home race with all of sponsors in the suites, I'm from Bakersfield, that's pretty sweet."
The first 125 laps saw Peltier and Thorn swap the lead, and run nose-to-tail, while also driving away from the rest of the field -- a group that included Jeremy Doss, Owen Riddle, Jace Hansen and Cale Kanke. The Peltier, Thorn battle was everything great about southwestern racing with a tremendous amount of respect between the pair of regional champions.
"Derek Thorn is the smartest race car driver I have ever raced against," Peltier said. "He’s good. I enjoy racing with him, especially like that. We got to rubbing on each other a little bit. It’s just good hard racing."
The feeling is mutual, too.
"He’s a smart guy," Thorn said. "He’s one of the handful of guys who could build a car from scratch and set them up and he’s worked his butt off. We’ve learned a lot, I’ve learned a lot from racing with him across the country, hat’s off to him, and it means a lot hearing that from him."
Meanwhile, the rest of the region is still trying to play catch up with the Cambell and Sigma cars.
After Peltier was eliminated, Thorn largely drove off to multi-second leads every run, leaving some of the best battles for deeper throughout the field. Jake Finch drove from outside of the top-10 to sixth place with 10 laps to go but ran out of fuel while racing Jeremy Doss for fifth.
Doss has shown himself capable of taking the fight to Thorn and Peltier in recent years but just wasn’t quite where he wanted his Lyon Racing car to be on Saturday with a top-five.
"The car was a little too free for my liking in the first half and we over-adjusted during the break," Doss said. "We made it tight and just couldn’t catch the breaks on the restarts."
Owen Riddle enjoyed several competitive restarts alongside Thorn, but just couldn’t hold the No. 43 off. For a team operated by a pair of brothers out of Naches, Washington, even being with a couple of seconds of Thorn on a long green flag run was something worth celebrating by the end of the night.
"We just needed more raw speed and drive off," Riddle said. "Thorn beat us on the corner off. But I haven’t raced since last July so to finish second to them … we’ll take it."
Logan Bearden made the trip from Texas and completed the podium, and felt like he could have had a shot to at least topple Riddle for second if not for getting pinched into the wall on two decisive restarts.
"We knocked the right front toe out of it early," Bearden said. "We got it fixed and knocked it out again on the second to last restart. Overall, happy with the performance and we’ll take that into the rest of the year."
Thorn will likely not win a seventh Southwest Tour championship this season as his team is focused on traveling across the country to all the big paying races instead -- events like the Battle at Berlin, Slinger Nationals, Summer Showdown, All-American 400 and Snowball Derby.
His season begins with a win and a $25,000 check.
"We’re just going to take it one race at a time," Thorn said. "We have to have speed, but it takes a lot of luck too. Look at Peltier tonight. Those are the sort of things that can happen in these longer races, and they could happen to anyone. We have the speed, I hope we’ll have the luck, and we’ll take it just one start at a time."