Lakeport native Derek Thorn, the 2012 SPEARS SLR Southwest Tour Series champion, has won the “Sunoco Driven Challenge” for 2012.
His reward? It’s a big one — a test with Joe Gibbs Racing.
This award, the result of a collaboration between Sunoco and Joe Gibbs Racing, ranks drivers from the nation’s five top short track series — PASS North, PASS South, ARCA/CRA Super Series, ASA Midwest Tour and the SPEARS SLR Southwest Tour Series. A national points structure ranks winners in these series in order to choose a national champion.
Thorn came out on top.
It was quite a coup for Thorn to cap off what has arguably been his best year of racing to date (he also races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, where he came in third in 2012).
As for the testing session, Thorn said, “It went beyond my expectations.”
Thorn attended the NASCAR breakfast awards ceremony and the Night of Champions on Saturday, Dec. 8, in Charlotte, N.C.
On Sunday, Thorn went to his first NFL game in Charlotte with Charlie Price, who works for Richard Childress Racing’s Nationwide program.
The Carolina Panthers hosted Atlanta.
“The game was awesome,” Thorn said. “The Panthers were the underdogs and they put a whooping on Atlanta.”
On Monday morning, Thorn went to JGR’s K&N shop in Charlotte, N.C., which is also home to JGR’s Nationwide Series shop.
Thorn met Lake Speed Jr. (he heads the Joe Gibbs Racing Driven Oil division) there. Scott Teasley gave Thorn a tour of the Nationwide and K&N shops. After that he went to the JGR Sprint Cup Series shop where he met J.D. Gibbs (Joe Gibbs' son), and also Joe Gibbs himself.
Gibbs let Thorn wear his Super Bowl ring for a photo, telling Thorn he would look prestigious with the ring on.
Thorn said, “Joe Gibbs is a very nice man, very cordial,” Thorn said. Gibbs also signed the book he wrote, “Game Plan for Life,” for Thorn.
Thorn then headed to JGR’s Sprint Cup shop where Speed gave him a tour, then on to lunch with Speed. After lunch Thorn went to the NASCAR R&D Center, where the new 2013 ‘Generation 6’ Sprint Cup car was on display with all the templates.
The Center is built around building future development of NASCAR safety and innovation. After that, Thorn and the two Sunoco winners had a “fabulous” dinner with Speed.
Early Tuesday morning Thorn got to watch a test session of the ‘Generation 6’ at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“The test was eye-opening,” Thorn said. “TV never does racing justice, any form of racing for that matter, but getting to just take it all in (the testing), when there wasn’t thousands of fans crowding anything, no lines and minimal security, so you could go almost anywhere you wanted.
“The cars are allowed full telemetry so they’ve got stuff running all over the place, picking up travels, tire temps and cameras recording every move. They’ve got a lot to learn about the Generation 6 Cup car, so all the teams seemed to be doing all they could to get the upper hand,” he said.
On Wednesday, Thorn tested a Joe Gibbs Racing K&N Pro Series East car for most of the day. He would run a few laps, then talk to the crew and get feedback from them. They made a lot of different changes to the car throughout the day. At the end of the day Thorn made a 10-lap run and ran a very fast lap.
J.D. Gibbs said the team was “high” on Thorn.
“They have seen all kinds of drivers, so they know when they see a good one,” Gibbs said. “Thorn was a pleasure to work with. He works hard and he has a lot of perseverance. He has finesse and he ran lap times equal to a race winner at the track.”
His ability to help tune the car also impressed Gibbs.
“He really fit well with our team. It was encouraging to hear their report,” Gibbs added. Gibbs said the test is good for JGR and it gives guys a chance to show their driving ability and what kind of a person they are.
“We can say first hand, the guy is good.”
Thorn said working with crew chief Bryant Frazier (who works on the set up plate for the No. 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team and previously was a crew chief in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East), and Teasley (who works with the K&N Pro Series East team) was very enlightening.
Thorn said he learned a lot from them about how to be a better driver and said that he can take that back to his racing in the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series and the K&N Series.
Thorn said he learned 90 percent of racing is building relationships with people.
“JD has been around the industry for a long time networking,” he said. “He gave me some guidance on how to be a marketable driver.”
All in all, Thorn said it was a great experience, noting you never know what might come of it.
Thorn is one of the locked-in drivers competing in the “UNOH Battle at the Beach” in Daytona, Feb. 18-19.
“NASCAR wanted to do something new and special for the NASCAR regional and touring series,” Director Brad Moran said. “The end result is a format and rules package designed to showcase the best talent throughout NASCAR’s regional and touring series. It will be the ‘crown jewel’ of the short-track calendar.”
The race will take place on a 0.4-mile oval located on the Super stretch at Daytona International Speedway. The two-day event will begin Feb. 18, the day after pole qualifying for the 55th running of the Daytona 500 and setting the stage for the “World Center of Racing” to host the entire spectrum of NASCAR racing during Speedweeks.
Fans can follow NASCAR regional and touring series (@NASCARHomeTrack) and Daytona International Speedway on Twitter (@DISUpdates) and Derek Thorn (@derekthorn6) on Twitter, and stay up to speed on the latest news by using hashtag #NASCARBattle.
In 2013, Thorn will be driving full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West in the No. 9 Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil/Eibach Ford fielded by Bob Bruncati.
He will also be racing full-time as the defending 2012 champion in the SPEARS SLR Southwest Tour Series in the No. 43 Four Star Fruit car for Byron Campbell.
The first Southwest Tour race is on March 16, at Madera Speedway.
For more information on Derek Thorn, visit derekthorn.com