Super Late Models
Three Days of Super Late Models This Weekend on Racing America
Apr 6, 2022
It was for the Tom Dawson Trophy.
What else did you expect Chandler Smith to do against an otherwise untouchable Derek Thorn on the final restart of the 54th Snowball Derby? It wasn’t the most subtle bump-and-run, but Smith put a fender to Thorn in Turn 3 with 11 laps to go and the decision put Donnie Wilson Motorsports in Victory Lane.
Four months later, both drivers are back at Five Flags Speedway for the Pepperjack Kennels Twin 100s for an expected rematch between two of the most prolific teams in the discipline. It’s not the first weekend in December but the stakes are still high.
Is it high enough for Smith to want to move Thorn out of the way twice?
"It's not the Derby and that changes how you race, but at the same time, there is a SRX spot on the line and there are some cool pit boxes, but it's not the Derby," Smith said. "It's all situation dependent.
"I don't like to race that way. I'm not like that. But in that moment, and I said it that night, I felt like I should have won the Winchester 400, the All-American 400 and the Governor's Cup last year and things kept happening every single time.
"I owed it to (sponsor) FuelME and everyone at Donnie Wilson Motorsports to make up for that misfortune. If I didn't do that, it was on me and not bad luck, and it was up to me to give them what they deserved and worked towards."
Smith says he tried to explain that sentiment to Thorn right after the race but the veteran from California wasn’t having it.
"I’m the type of racer that if there’s a problem, let’s talk it out now and not next week, let’s not let it linger," Smith said. "Even if we have to fight it out, let’s do it there and then and not let it linger. I tried to talk to Derek but in that moment, he did not want to talk, and that’s the last time I’ve talked to him."
Thorn says winning one or two races this weekend would be a rewarding accomplishment, but it won’t make up for December.
Does the second straight late race defeat in the biggest race of the year still sting?
"It does and it doesn't," Thorn told Racing America on Wednesday. "I look back on the bigger, marquee races that should have been and I sometimes think about what could have been. At the same time, I think about how competitive we were, and that this past Snowball was the best race we've ever run together, and it just got away from us on the past stint.
"All in all, it just makes me feel very fortunate to be in this great place with Byron Campbell and (crew chief) Mike Keen. It take some luck sometimes and dwelling on what could have been isn't very helpful."
The most memorable thing for Thorn was actually how fans reacted to Smith in Victory Lane that afternoon. Smith climbed out of the car to thunderous jeers. It’s probably the only time the Snowball Derby winner had been greeted that way.
"I feel like Pensacola has become kind of a second home track for us," Thorn said. "The reaction from the fans that day was really incredible. We are an out of town team and I felt like they were behind us in that moment. That was really cool.
"It’s part of the reason we wanted to come back here and race this weekend. The fans show up for us and we wanted to show up for them."
For all the talk of the Smith vs. Thorn rematch, the entry list is full of several other heavy hitters in Bubba Pollard, Stephen Nasse, Matt Craig, Jake Garcia and Hunter Robbins. This entry list is part of the reason Smith immediately left Martinsville after taking the checkered flag with his Truck Series team to make the overnight trek to the Gulf Coast.
Even with a Snowball Derby victory to his resume, the 19-year-old wants to continue challenging himself against the best of the best.
"I love it," Smith said. "I absolutely love. At this point of my career, Super Late Model racing is something that I do just for fun. It’s a whole lot of fun. It’s great to build my brand as a racer. We have a great partner in FuelMe that we’re trying to build something with at Wilson Motorsports, and it’s just true to my roots."
It’s the same for Thorn, who has forgone a Southwest Tour schedule in lieu of something that resembles a road trip of the biggest races in the discipline.
Irwindale All Star Showdown
Five Flags Twin 100s
Battle at Berlin
All American 400
"All in all, it’s just a nice change of pace," Thorn said. "We’ve accomplished everything there was to do out West. With our partnership with Pepperjack Kennels, it was an opportunity to see what Marty and Misty wanted to do, Byron Campbell.
"This is kind of like running a national championship schedule, which is something I think would be really neat to do someday. These are some of my favorite race tracks and they all pay really well too. So, it’s just a chance to do something a little bit different."
And perhaps, this weekend, the first step towards moving on from what happened in December and one step closer to his own date with the Tom Dawson Trophy.