BAKERSFIELD, California - Bakersfield's Derek Thorn outmatched Palmdale's Race Liberante in the thrilling return of NASCAR Pro Late Models to Kern County Raceway Park on Saturday night, before a crowd of 2,000. NASCAR Spec-Mods and NASCAR Mini Stocks were also in action in the all-stockcar show at the brand-new half-mile and quarter-mile speedways.
Liberante set the stage for the duel by taking fast-time and winning the trophy dash, both ahead of Thorn. The Pro Late Model feature was spread out over a pair of 40 lap segments, with Thorn taking his time navigating through the field.
Dan Holtz led the opening three laps, with the start of the race puncuated by Bailey Thompson tagging the backstretch wall head-on. Holtz' teammate Kevin Thompson assumed the top position over the next 15 laps with Tim Smith and Thorn in tow in a hotly contested battle.
Smith got hung up with lapped traffic and fell to fourth, and moments later both Thorn and Liberante went past Holtz for the top two positions. Thorn finished five car lengths ahead of Liberante at the lap 40 break.
Coming out of the break, Thorn and Liberante went side-by-side with sparks flying from low tire pressures in a visually spectacular battle. Liberante overhauled the #43 of Thorn on lap 43 and fought off numerous advances from Thorn.
The great side-by-side duel finally ended on lap 63 when Thorn took the lead and managed to dash to a .867 victory. Holtz, Smith, and Thompson rounded out the top-five finishers.
"Race had their stuff together tonight," Thorn said. "It is definitely tough to pass here. Being in victory lane is where my crew deserves to be. It's always good to come out and win and it feels good to win at your home track!"
The 40 lap NASCAR Mini Stock event was split over two 20 lap segments as well and was a tale of two halves. The first half of the race had five different leaders and four lead changes as the drivers jockeyed on the quarter-mile. Steve Roark led the first two laps before being passed by Randal Smith. Smith was passed by Justin Fine on lap six.
A caution on lap 12 allowed opening night winner Johnny Wood to rocket into the lead but he was passed by ninth starting Billy Lay on lap 15.
Lay led into the halfway break, and really set sail on the field in the second half. In the end, Lay claimed $250 with a 3.056 second win over Wood, Racin Vernon who started last, Fine, and Byron Campbell Jr.
A short field of NASCAR Spec-Mods had an abbreviated 15 lap feature where Chris Dalton fended off Bailey Thompson's numerous attempts to take the lead. The win for Dalton makes him two-for-two on the year and paid $500 to win.
The NASCAR Pro Late Models return next Saturday night at Kern County Raceway Park, joined by INEX Legends, INEX Bandoleros, and Mini Dwarfs. Adult tickets start at just $20 for this great night of racing!