To win a NASCAR Touring Series championship, any driver would tell you the battle wages on from the first drop of the green flag signaling the start of the season. In reflecting on his season, 2013 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Derek Thorn says it took success on every single lap to bring his trophy home to Bakersfield, California.
For Thorn, it was the second year teamed with car owner Bob Bruncati and crew chief Bill Sedgwick that proved to be just the ticket to the top.
“After the first year we were able to go back in the off season and regroup and figure out what we needed to gain on; we were able to go back and recuperate.
“And it takes time for people to get really working together. So having more time only benefitted us. Then I felt like when our season fired off we just fired off on the right foot. We had good consistent finishes. In the two years that I ran for those guys, we had no mechanical failures. That’s kind of a testament to those guys about how hard they work on making sure that stuff is mechanically sound and that everything was solid at every racetrack we went to.”
In a series with a competition level as stiff as NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series West, there was no room for error at any point in the season for the Sunrise Ford No. 6 team.
“We had some good runs and we had some times where we struggled,” explained Thorn. “But I think the key to it all was that we made the most of every weekend. Whether we were a first-place car that could race for the lead the whole time or it was one of those days where you go and you’re a third, fourth or fifth-place car and you just have to make the most of what you’ve got.
“We fought for our finishes and we tried to capitalize on each weekend. Because with the NASCAR points the way they are with one point per position, it comes down to the end of the year and we beat Cameron (Hayley) by only six points. You look back to any one race where you lost a point or two or could have gained a point or two and anything could have made us or broke us depending on how that one race could have gone. So that’s the way we attacked the season, we took it one race at a time to capitalize on everything we could.”
Reminiscing on his championship season, Thorn names his first road course win at Sonoma Raceway with Bruncati his biggest accomplishment of 2013.
“The road course win was a personal high for and it meant a lot of the team too,” said Thorn. “Because Bob Bruncati kind of comes from a road course/road racing background so road racing means a lot to him. Prior to racing for him, I had zero road racing experience so we really worked hard as a team until I felt like we were on the same page since I’ve been racing in circles my whole life.
“It was one of those things where I had a lot to make up in a short period of time,” said Thorn. “And Bob and Bill and the entire team worked hard with me to try to get me up to speed. Because with Eric Holmes, Greg Pursley, David Mayhew and all those guys that have road course experience, it’s hard to go road course racing with so many drivers like that. Our average car count at a circle track would be 24 or 25 and you go to the road courses and they get 35 to 38 cars. One bad mistake or one missed shift or one messed up transmission puts you in the back.
“But we went to Infineon this year and ended up winning. It meant a lot not only to win on a road course, me not having much road course experience, but it’s only an hour from my hometown and I used to go there when I was younger with my dad to watch races and stuff. So to be able to go to a track so close to home when I never thought I’d ever get a chance to race there and to win a race against the competition that we had that weekend meant a lot to me.”
Among the highs of winning three events en route to the series title, Thorn and the No. 6 team fared their share of lows as well including what they considered to be unsatisfactory finishes in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East/West combined events in the Midwest.
“The Iowa weekends never went all that great,” said Thorn. “The two times we went there this year we just struggled. It’s hard to go to a track with a team that I know is capable of producing great stuff and I’m capable of running up front in that stuff and finish the way we did. We ran between 15th and 20th and those are tough weekends to swallow no matter how hard your team works. And with the competitive nature in racing it’s tough to go there and run against good teams and then not capitalize on good finishes.”
Now looking forward to the 2014 season, Thorn has once again teamed with Byron Campbell Motorsports to pursue the SRL Southwest Tour series title.
“We’re going to run for a 2014 championship with the SRL Southwest tour,” said Thorn. “Together in the last two years we’ve won 11 races in 18 starts, I believe. These guys have been like family to me. They’re right here in my hometown of Bakersfield. We’ve had a good time. We’ve had a lot of success together out on the track and it’s fun to be back behind the wheel of their equipment because they always do it right and it’s great stuff. It’s always fun to be able to go to the track with them and have a good time and win.”