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Inside the Smith, Thorn Bump-and-Run that Decided the Derby

What would you do when presented a chance to win the biggest race of the year?

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The 54th Snowball Derby came down to the age-old short track question of doing what you needed to do versus doing what you wanted.

Chandler Smith viewed the bump-and-run on a restart with 11 laps to go as what was required to win the biggest race of the year, while Derek Thorn viewed it as a decision counter to the traditional ethics of short track racing.

Smith followed Thorn down the backstretch and gave him a shot into corner entry that sent the Campbell Motorsports No. 43 up the track and gave the Donnie Wilson Motorsports No. 26 a lead its driver would not relinquish.

It was a multifaceted decision that Smith says he thought about the entire way down the backstretch.

Is it the right thing to do?
It’s the Snowball Derby.
They aren’t going to like it.
My team deserves this.
Could I get penalized?
It’s my only shot.

"To be completely honest with you, all the things you just said, I thought about from the middle of Turn 1, all the way to halfway down the backstretch," Smith said. "All of them, all of them, and I made my decision getting into 3."

Deeper in the field, the great Bubba Pollard was racing for a top-10, 15 years into his own pursuit of the Tom Dawson Trophy. There are numerous legends and greats who have won everything but the Snowball Derby.

Who knows if Smith will ever get this chance again?

Ultimately, Smith has lost races when he left a little bit on the table and he wasn’t going to do it again with a chance at winning the Snowball Derby. It was as if time stood still on the backstretch to allow Smith to reach a conclusion.

I'm going to do it for, for sure.

"A few years ago, at the Winchester 400, Jeff Choquette and I raced side-by-side for laps and laps and laps, and only touched once, and that was nothing, very small," Smith said. "He won the race, and everyone told me I raced him too clean, and I would have won if I just moved him, but that’s not the way I race.

"But even though I should have a lot of chances to win this race, you just never know, and I felt like my team deserved this after so much misfortune throughout the year."

If anyone now knows about missed opportunities, it’s Thorn, who was outdueled by Ty Majeski in a hard-nosed battled on a late restart at Five Flags Speedway last year. Part of the calculus for Smith was a conviction that if Thorn was that much better, he would have just taken the lead right back.

But Smith believed Thorn was protected by clean air, leading a record 289 laps from the pole and every single lap up until that point.

"Yeah, well, I guess that’s the answer, man," Thorn said. "It sucks. Biggest race of the year and to have a kid like that do some shit like that. It is what it is. I guess he felt it was necessary and we were on the receiving end of it.

"Life always comes full circle, maybe not as fast as some of us want, but it usually always does."

The bump-and-run was inherently reminiscent of one made by Stephen Nasse on Pollard in the final corner of the Snowflake 100 last year. It resulted in a disqualification and a surprise winner in Jake Johnson. Why didn’t race director Nicholas Rogers strip Smith of the win on Sunday?

"Very simple," Rogers said. "Both of them came back. The incident last year, you had a driver coming back to the checkered, and only one them crossed the line. This year, there was no caution and both them came back around."

Pollard, of course, only went around because he turned his steering wheel hard left into Nasse in the hopes of straightening the car back out or even retaliate.

"My theory has been, while it may not be proper, correct or liked, but if both drivers come back around, that has to be policed by the drivers themselves," Rogers said. "It’s hard for us to officiate the what its when you don’t have a caution to review and assess any potential penalty."

Meanwhile, Smith didn’t even know how hard he could afford to hit Thorn and not turn him around. It’s not something he has ever done in a Super Late Model.

"At the end of the day, Thorn was sideways all day," Smith said. "He was still fast. Now that I’ve done Truck Series races, I can pick up when we’re aero racing and I said, ‘holy crap, we’re aero racing in Super Late Models.

"Clean air was king here too. So, I knew if I could just get by him, we would have had clean air and could set sail. … I eased off in there, got to him, and I felt like I should have been moving him, but he wasn’t moving at all, so I’m like, son of a gun, how do I move him?"

Smith stayed on the bumper and it was enough to get by Thorn and take the lead.

"We’ve always been on the receiving end of getting screwed and it’s getting old," Thorn said. "We set another record for most laps led. It’s a fresh wound and it still hurts. I feel like he tried to dump me and had no interest in racing us. That’s where I’m most frustrated. It just sucks for us, man. I guess the rules are whatever it takes to fall asleep at night."

Smith believes Thorn would have made the same move if the roles were reversed because he essentially did to Majeski a year ago.

"He sailed it all the way to his bumper," Smith said. "He was a few inches away. So, what would've been that call been? It’s the end of the Snowball Derby and we’re racing. I would get it if he spun or had been wrecked, because that’s not what I was trying to do, and I didn’t do that. I just trying to move him up a lane so I could fill that hole and race him side-by-side.

"I thought he was still beside me when we came off the corner. He was so free all day and that’s why he shot all the way up the track. If they weren’t that free, we would have stayed side-by-side. When you take that energy out of the rear, it’s what made it worse, so that’s my take on it."