June 20, 2015 by Joe Kukura

Stock-car racing champion Derek Thorn didn’t become a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champ (2013) and the two-time defending Spears SRL Southwest Tour champion (2012, 2014) overnight. He used to be an 8-year-old kid racing go-karts on a dirt track at Lakeport Speedway in Lakeport, California. Now a six-time champion on asphalt and dirt, Thorn looks back on his racing career and where it all started.

derek thorn

Derek Thorn was the Spears SRL Southwest Tour champion in 2014.

Thorn grew up in Lakeport “from day one-and-a-half on,” he said. “My family’s been in Lakeport, I was raised in Lakeport, went to school in Lakeport, graduated from Lakeport. Everything I’ve done up until the time I was 20 was in Lakeport.”

And it wasn’t long before he was racing at Lakeport, albeit on a little dirt track. “My dad got me into go-karts when I was 8 years old,” he said. “Inside of Lakeport Speedway there used to be a dirt track.” Today, Lakeport Speedway has a state-of-the-art indoor go-kart track.

“We had winged dirt go-karts that I started off on. There were three or four different types of divisions as you get older, so I went through all of those divisions,” Thorn remembered. “Then when I was 13, my dad gave me a street stock, they called it, and my dad was a passenger in it. At 13 years old was the first time I got to race on Lakeport Speedway itself, the asphalt part of the race track.”

As a devoted part of the Lake County racing community, Thorn worked in a race shop in Lakeport, which got him acclimated to race cars. Once he learned how to work on cars, he used his skills to not only become a driver, but also a driver coach and a car chief. “I even have my commercial license so I can drive a hauler to the racetrack,” he said.

“It started off as something small,” he said. “As time progressed, my parents were able to continue my development in racing and it just kind of snowballed from there.”

As the defending stock-car champion, Thorn comes back to Lakeport regularly. “I try to get back three to five times a year, depending on how the schedule works out,” he said. “We have four race cars in our shop, three of which use freight train Peters Racing Engines, and it happens to be right there in Lakeport. For the engines that we run, he’s probably one of the better engine-builders in the country. So it’s neat when we have to do engine work or have engine work done, I can come home, drop the engine off and see the family at the same time.”

For Thorn, it’s the sense of family and camaraderie of growing up in Lakeport that keeps those memories alive—never forgetting where it all began for him. “Looking back on it, it’s the family environment. Racing’s a giant family—all the people I’ve met, people I’ve spent time with and have gotten to race with,” Thorn said. “Lakeport Speedway started my career that let me race all over the country, letting me see places I’d never get to see and do things I would have never gotten to do, meeting people I never would have met.”

You might see the next generation’s Derek Thorn racing at Lakeport Speedway or its junior go-kart track. Check the Lakeport Speedway schedule for flat track and go-kart racing, and enjoy one of the great small-town tracks where big names are sometimes made.