DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For many competitors heading to Florida for next month’s inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach, it will mark their first trip to Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Among those making a cross-country trek for his first visit to the “World Center of Racing” is Derek Thorn – a 26-year-old driver from Lakeport, Calif., who is coming off his first full season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
“I’ve never been to Daytona before,” said Thorn. “So it’s kind of neat. It’s neat (to) be in such an historical place.
“All the guys on the team are pumped about going,” he said of the crew on the No. 6 Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil/Eibach Ford of car owner Bob Bruncati. “I’m pretty excited about going. I think the race itself will be interesting. The trip will mean a lot to us. It will be a lot of fun to go back and do it.”
Action in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series is just part of the competition in the prestigious first-year event, which will be contested on a .4-mile oval on the backstretch at the Daytona track on Feb. 18-19. The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Models will have qualifying races and a 150-lap feature on Feb. 18, while the racing on Feb. 19 will include a similar schedule of qualifying races and 150-lap races for both the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tours and K&N Pro Series.
Thorn, who finished third in the championship standings for 2012, is locked into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series feature at Daytona by virtue of his win last April at Havasu 95 Speedway in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. He collected another win later in the season at NAPA Speedway in Albuquerque, N.M.
Thorn is eager for the opportunity for drivers from the East division and West division of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series to battle it out on a short track.
“It seems like the West guys always struggle against the East on the bigger tracks,” said Thorn, who ran a partial schedule in the K&N East in 2008. “It’s nice to go back with these guys and run a short track. Hopefully, the short track stuff will be a little different deal.”
Nevertheless, Thorn knows the competition will be a challenge.
“It will be tough,” he said. “There’s no two ways about it.”
And Thorn knows the race may get rougher as the laps wind down. He anticipates drivers may choose to muscle their way around in the late stages of the event.
“Irwindale (Calif.) was the kind of race you never wanted to be leading with five to go and I think even more so at this one – it’s even shorter and harder to pass,” Thorn said. “I think you’ll find guys using up front and rear bumpers quite a bit. I hope that’s not the case, but I’ve got a gut feeling it might be.”
From a technical standpoint, meanwhile, Thorn says the Daytona course does not compare to any other event on the circuit.
“There’s really no place like it,” he said. “It’s going to be so flat. I don’t think there’s a race track that looks like that, not that I’ve seen.”
When it comes to flat short tracks, however, some long-time West Coast racers recall the old Saugus (Calif.) Speedway – a third-mile oval that ended racing operations in 1995. It’s where Thorn’s crew chief, Bill Sedgwick, honed his skills as a champion.
“He was pretty good at Saugus,” Thorn said. “That place was flat as a pancake. I think all of his experience on real flat tracks is going to help.”
Success at Daytona, meanwhile, is something that could benefit a team heading into the 2013 season, Thorn acknowledged. For the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, that season kicks off with a season-opener at Phoenix Int’l Raceway less than two weeks later.
“I think momentum’s always a good thing,” Thorn said. “Whether you go back there and wreck and wad it up or you go back there and win it – it’s one of those things where it can reflect. If you do good, you could carry some momentum into Phoenix.”