Derek Thorn Racing’s Return to NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Paying Dividends Early
Heads To Colorado National Speedway In Thick of Championship Hunt
The cars have changed. The competition has changed. The schedule has changed.
But if one thing has not over the last half-decade, it’s Derek Thorn’s comfort level behind the wheel of Bob Bruncati’s No. 6 Sunrise Fords. After a four-year hiatus from the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Thorn returned to full-time competition in the series this season and has raced out to a flying start.
Through four races, the Lakeport, California native has finished no worse than third — with three runner-up finishes — and sits three points behind teammate Ryan Partridge in the championship race. Now Thorn and the rest of the West series roll to Colorado National Speedway for Saturday’s NAPA Auto Parts 175, a track where Thorn has a win and a second-place finish in two career starts.
“Colorado’s been good to us,” said Thorn, the 2013 K&N Pro Series West champion. “Certain drivers just take to certain tracks for whatever reason, and that’s a place that’s always fit my driving style. We’ve got a good setup that Bob takes there, and I think we’re going there looking to have another good run.”
Colorado is hardly the only place that’s been good to Thorn.
He has five wins in 41 career series starts, all on different tracks. Only six times has he failed to finish a West race in the top 10. He’s won on quarter-miles in Arizona and California, on half-miles in New Mexico and on the road course at Sonoma.
But the accolades and strong runs aren’t limited to just the K&N Pro Series for the 34-year-old, who has been married and welcomed a child into the world since his series debut 10 years ago. He’s won four of the last six SRL Southwest Tour championships in a Super Late Model, landed on the podium at the Snowball Derby in Florida and finished second in the 2016 All-American 400 at Nashville, all for Byron Campbell Motorsports, where he works full-time during the week on Super Late Models.
With all of that now on his resume, Thorn has matured as a driver, able to balance high championship expectations at Bob Bruncati Racing alongside the ability to win races in Bruncati’s cars.
“I feel I’ve progressed,” Thorn said. “The goals have stayed pretty much the same (as they were in 2013). I just try and approach each race with the mindset of one race at a time, one lap at a time, one pass at a time. It’s so easy to lose sight down the road by making mistakes or losing focus for even a single lap.
“I feel like I’ve grown up and matured. Since the last time I was in the series, I’ve gotten married, had a kid, bought a house — life’s progressed quite rapidly. Maybe from somebody else’s perspective they might say I’ve ‘changed’ how I drive, but I don’t think I have. I think I’ve just kept learning.”
In 2011, Thorn won the pole for the Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale, still a rising talent in the stock car ranks with aspirations of taking his career to NASCAR’s national levels. While he might have wondered at the time what it was going to take to get his big break, he comes at it now with a new perspective.
Instead of wondering what-if or what could have been, Thorn looks as the things he has done in his career with a sense of awe. Whether it’s for Bruncati or Campbell, he’s has rides in some of the nation’s biggest stock car races and won championships in ultra-competitive series.
“There’s so few rides in the country where a driver can just show up with his helmet and drive,” Thorn said. “I’m super-fortunate with Bob’s cars or what I’ve done with Byron in Bakersfield. I still can’t get used to the fact that I’ve been able to go and run the races I’ve run. I have to pinch myself a little bit at the opportunities I’ve gotten.
“Every time I get to get behind the wheel, we’re always in contention to win. It’s awesome. It’s just awesome to go out and do that every time.”
But if climbing back into the No. 6 feels very familiar to Thorn, he’s quick to point out that not everything has remained the same. There are new faces on the entry lists every week, and there is a dirt track for the first time this season on the schedule at Las Vegas.
“Five years is a long time in racing,” Thorn said. “Mostly it’s the development and technology aspect of it. Even here, we’ve got two brand new cars that we didn’t have around before when I was here — the cars themselves, and what it takes to go fast is ever-evolving and tougher to achieve. Everything’s more updated, more state of the art, but that’s what it takes to win now.”
Bill McAnally Racing & Bruncati Bring Their Battle To Rocky Mountains
Speaking of winning, it’s something Thorn would certainly like to do. Bruncati hasn’t won a championship since Thorn’s in 2013, and Bill McAnally Racing has had a stranglehold on the title of late.
Thorn hopes he can put his series experience, Bruncati’s cars and everything he’s learned elsewhere behind the wheel to put himself back at the head table at the awards banquet in Charlotte this winter.
“Bill’s seemed to have three-year run of championships,” Thorn said. “Between me, myself, and Trevor Huddleston, I think we’re in as good a position as we’ve ever been.”
Derek Thorn heads to Colorado National Speedway this weekend three points behind teammate Ryan Partridge in the
Twelve consecutive winners at Colorado National Speedway have come from the top three starting positions, including five from the pole and another five from the outside pole.
In 13 of the 15 K&N Pro Series West races in history at the track, the winner started inside the top three. No driver has started worse than 14th and won at Colorado National, a feat Steve Portenga pulled off in 2001.
Only two drivers entered in the NAPA Auto Parts 175 this weekend have won previously at Colorado National — Bob Bruncati Racing teammates Derek Thorn and Ryan Partridge.
Partridge won there in 2015, breaking up Chris Eggleston’s hold on his home track. Eggleston won three of four races at Colorado from 2014-2017, finishing third there in 2015.
Kody Vanderwal, who swept the series’ Twin 100s at Tucson Speedway earlier this season, hails from nearby LaSalle, Colorado.
Through four races this season, Vanderwal ranks fifth in the K&N Pro Series West standings with two wins, two top fives and three top 10s in his second full season of competition.
Chris Eggleston is the only Colorado native to have won a K&N Pro Series event at Colorado National Speedway, which he’s done a track-record three times.
Colorado National Speedway
A NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track featuring the Super Late Model division as its premier division, the Pro Trucks and Super Stocks join the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West on the schedule this weekend.