BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The field was thin, but that didn't make it any easier for Bakersfield's Derek Thorn on Saturday night at Kern County Raceway Park.
Thorn squeezed past Race Liberante in turn two on lap 63 and went on to victory in an 80-lap Pro Late Model feature that was run in two 40-lap segments on the half-mile paved oval.
"It's always good to come out and win." Thorn said. "I wish we had a bigger turnout. It's going to take a while but I'm sure we're going to get more cars as the season goes on."
Nine cars started the feature and only five were around for the second 40-lap segment, but it was not easy pickings for Thorn, who won the Spears SRL Southwest Tour title last season.
Thorn was the fourth different leader in the first 40 laps, taking the point on lap 19 and leading until the break. That put him on the pole to start the final 40 laps.
Thorn went to the lead immediately, but Liberante of Palmdale moved past Thorn and into the lead on lap 43. It took Thorn 20 laps to work his way back around, diving low in turn one and slipped up in front as the two came out of turn two on lap 63.
"I've never raced him before and when he got by in turn one I was a little worried," Thorn said. "I had my hands full. It's definitely tough to pass here."
Liberante finished just under a second behind. Dan Holtz finished third with Tim Smith a close fourth.
Billy Lay ran away from the field in the second half of a split 40-lap Mini Stock feature on the quarter-mile oval to get the victory.
The first 20 laps featured five leaders and four lead changes by four other drivers with Lay getting to the front on lap 16. That proved to be the key to victory as he pulled out to a healthy lead to start the final 20-lap segment and was never challenged.
"I started out front and didn't have to work my way through cars," Lay said of the difference between segments.
Lay started the race ninth in a 12-car field.
"I think I was driving too far over my head (in the first 20)," he said. "This one I was just cruising."
Johnny Wood, who won the first Mini Stock race at the track on June 1, finished second. Racin Vernon was third, Justine Fine fourth and Byron Campbell Jr., fifth.
Chris Dalton pulled away from Bailey Thompson over the final few laps to win the 15-lap Spec Mod feature on the half-mile in which just four cars started.
Despite the small turnout, (five cars were in the pits but one broke before the feature) the two frontrunners put on a good tussle for the win.
Thompson led the first six laps before Dalton got past. She then stayed right on his tail until the fast few laps.
"She gave me a little scare there," said Dalton, who is now 2-for-2 in Spec Mod racing at the track. "She gave me a run for my money. She made me earn that one."
Thompson said her car got tight in the corners as the race wore on, causing her to lose contact with Dalton.
Tim Esmay was third.