PENSACOLA, Fla. – Derek Thorn said prior to Country Pleasin’ Pole Night for the 52nd annual Snowball Derby that he “wasn’t sure what he had” for a race car at Five Flags Speedway.
What Thorn ended up with after two laps was the pole for Sunday’s 300-lap finale, the two-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion’s first time topping qualifying for the super late model classic.
The 33-year-old native of Lakeport, Calif., toured the half-mile paved oval in 16.277 seconds (110.585 mph) with his No. 43 Campbell Motorsports entry to top a 57-car field in attendance for the Derby.
After struggling through two days of practice, Thorn admitted that Friday night’s pole-winning effort was “a bit of a shock” to both himself and his team.
“Man, we practiced here on Monday and were really happy with the car, but since we showed up on Thursday, we’ve been chasing it. This is the first time since Monday that it felt back to the original hot rod we had then,” Thorn told SPEED SPORT. “My hat’s off to Mike Keane and these guys; we tried a lot of things between Monday and now to try to find some speed and some drive and consistency to it. I think we found some things that worked and found a lot of things that didn’t work, but nonetheless, here we are and it’s such a great feeling.
“If you would’ve told me Thursday we were going to have the pole for this race, I don’t think I would have believed you. Man, this is cool!”
With Sunday’s Derby featuring controlled cautions instead of live pit stops, Thorn was quick to note that he believes track position – and the ability to manage the race pace – will be more important than ever.
“We’ll have to make some adjustments, obviously, to get this thing tuned up for the race and maybe a little bit better … but to be up front and start up front, that makes it easier to fall back and pace yourself than it is to move forward through the field,” Thorn said. “Hopefully we can maintain some track position, use those controlled cautions, and make the proper adjustments to be there at the end.”
Cole Butcher will join Thorn on the front row, qualifying second-fastest for the second year in a row. The Canadian turned a best lap of 16.379 seconds (109.897 mph) with his red No. 53.
Much like Thorn, Butcher feels that he can stay in the mix Sunday since he’s starting at the front of the field.
“After watching Dartfish, Derek just ran it in a little bit harder in both corners,” said Butcher of where he was a touch short. “Congratulations to Derek, though. They deserve it; they’ve been working hard lately. For us, though, to qualify second two years in a row is pretty amazing and I can’t thank these Wilson Motorsports guys enough. They’re building badass cars and to have all three in the show is incredible.”
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular Corey LaJoie timed in third overall, followed by the Georgia duo of Kyle Plott and short-track kingpin Bubba Pollard, who starts fifth on Sunday afternoon.
Josh Berry, Matt Craig, Jeff Choquette, Casey Roderick and Chandler Smith filled out the first five rows.
Notables starting in the middle of the pack include former Derby polesitter Preston Peltier (13th), young guns Gio Bromante (14th) and Kaden Honeycutt (16th), two-time Derby winner Augie Grill (21st) and NASCAR Truck Series team owner David Gilliland (22nd), making a rare super late model appearance.
After leading the first Friday practice, Ty Majeski rolls off 23rd on Sunday as he seeks his first Derby win.
Travis Braden was the final man to make the show on speed, qualifying 30th after his team thrashed to repair the right side of his Platinum Motorsports No. 26 from a crash with A.J. Wernette in final practice.
A host of big names will have to race their way in through Saturday’s 50-lap Last Chance Showdown, including Carson Hocevar, Johnny VanDoorn, Stephen Nasse, Harrison Burton, All American 400 winner Mason Mingus, five-time Derby winner Rich Bickle and Truck Series fan favorite Jordan Anderson.