rd premium 2013

Ricky Thornton, Jr. – Quick Out of the Gate and On-Pace for a Standout Season

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Ricky Thornton, Jr. – Quick Out of the Gate and On-Pace for a Standout Season

Photo: Sha'na Megan

Story By: Sam Stoecklin / RacinDirt Original

At this point in the New Year, Chandler, Arizona’s Ricky Thornton, Jr. likely has more starts to his credit than any of his fellow Dirt Modified peers. Admittedly, during the winter months, while others across the country try their best to stay warm and dig their way out of mammoth snowstorms, Thornton’s geographical location plays well into his ability to hit the tracks early.


Truth be told, it wouldn’t matter what zip code Thornton gave as his address given his desire to compete whenever and however possible. When we last talked to Thornton at the end of the 2013 season at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas, he was just beginning a new adventure with Theiss Motorsports with desires to race with the best touring drivers.



Thornton, who was then operating out of Hawkely, Texas, recorded respectable finishes of 9th and 17th on the first two nights of the USMTS Texas Winter Nationals before posting a strong 4th place run on the final night. At this point in time, the stars seemed aligned as the team found success early at Baytown; however, the pairing was not to be for the Arizonan and the team.


Once evident the new team was not going to work out, Thornton made his way back to the desert southwest after his short stint in Texas to collect his thoughts as 2013 wound down. When asked about his experience with Theiss Motorsprts, Thornton simply stated, “It just didn’t work out.”


The Southwest region is without question one of the hottest locations in the nation as far as churning out new talent is concerned, especially in the Modified ranks. The Scott Brothers come to mind as does Jeremy Payne and the Gallardo Family. Thornton is well aware of his surroundings and seems comfortable in his role as one of the West’s newest rising sons. “There’s a lot of talent coming out of this region, those drivers are getting to race more during the year and people are recognizing there are more racers,” stated a confident Thornton.


Most of his 2014 track time has come from IMCA competition but make no mistake about it, Thornton is as equally impressive in his own USRA-type Modified. After a recent successful run at Tucson International Raceway, where he competed with some of the best Modified aces in the business, Thornton said, “Tucson was a lot of fun, I got to run with some of the top touring guys, they run a clean race and run you hard, you’d get different people out this way if there was ever a full on USMTS race.”


Regarding his early season outings as previously mentioned, a look at various results from Tucson, Canyon Speedway Park, and Cocopah Speedway reveal Thornton’s stellar finishes from competition running consistently at the front of the field. Most of Thornton’s early season outings have come in the 5m IMCA car owned by good friend Anthony Madrid, whom Thornton said he’s known for 15 years, since he was 8 years old. Thornton’s winter activity has come in IMCA competition at the aforementioned tracks with great success.


Thornton’s backstory reads similar to other generational drivers who’ve come before him. Without question, RPMs flow through the bloodline of the Thornton family. Currently, his older Jeremy, is putting together a Modified to compete this season in Tucson, Arizona, while younger Brother Justin, plans to compete at Canyon Speedway.


With three boys close together in age and all being racers, Thornton’s parents, Father, Ricky Sr. and Mother, Tonja certainly had their work cut out for them. But as Thornton proclaimed, “They have always been supportive and helpful to all of us.”


The Patriarch and Matriarch of the Thornton family were both racers, Thornton stated, “Mom and Dad ran at Manzanita Speedway and Mom used to beat Dad quite a bit. Now, they help us a lot and they both like to watch all of us race.”


Far too often the art of turning wrenches escapes younger drivers but Thornton is not afraid to jump right in and tinker on the cars. His own car, the #20t Skyrocket is often found on the tracks at various USRA events. Currently, Thornton is offering his mechanical assistance to a couple of buddies on their cars while simultaneously focusing on his own equipment to be ready.


When USMTS announced the Gulf-Coast Region events, Thornton said he was excited to see the races on the schedule but on the same token he confessed that without a big sponsor he would not be able to compete in the planned events. Thornton also had trouble with his engine the night he won at Tucson International Raceway and won’t be able to compete in the El Paso event, but might possibly be ready for  Southern New Mexico Speedway race. “I hoped to make Corpus Christi and Baytown and I like the idea of a new region,” stated Thornton. “There are lots of guys out my way that want to run USMTS events. If someone offered me a ride for these races I’d go without a doubt.”


Although he says he lacks experience at El Paso and Las Cruces, he says he really likes bigger shows and was looking forward to possibly running in Las Cruces, where he says the racing is phenomenal … “The shorter tracks fit my driving style more than the others,” boasted Thornton.


Racing changes over time and when asked about the huge visual difference between the lines executed by younger drivers compared with the veterans, Thornton said, “I can keep speed in the corners, there is a huge difference in driving styles from generations, and younger drivers want it really bad and drive hard into the corners. At first I struggled, but I scared myself to drive better and caught on pretty quick.”


Thornton went on to say, “I raced bicycles when I was little, you don’t ever want to slow down no matter how old you are. I got into a stock car at Manzanita speedway in 2005, ran 2 years there and in ’07 went to a modified. We won the championship the first year out and we won at Canyon Speedway Park and we were more consistent even recording four or five seconds at Manzy.”


His time behind the wheel with Anthony Madrid proved successful and not just in Modified competition. “Anthony had two cars and in 2009 and 2010 we won late model championships in the Arizona series our rookie year out.” Thornton went on to say, “It was quite a bit of an adjustment to get used to the late model. I had so much traction; you had to be really aggressive.”


More recently, Thornton comes hot off competing during the IMCA Winter Nationals at Cocopah Speedway in Somerton, Arizona, where he posted a third-place finish on the final night of the weekend and the Winter Championship. So far this season Thornton leads all other drivers in stats department with a staggering 13 top-five finishes.


Among his finishes are no less than five wins. In January, Thornton competed at Tucson International Raceway against the likes of Stormy Scott, Jacob Gallardo, Brad Diercks, and defending USMTS Champion Rodney Sanders. Thornton did not let the big name drivers get inside his head and impressively his weekend culminated with a huge victory at Tucson. Thornton stated, “I started third and took the lead half way through, I got to second early and the more the race went by the more we reeled ‘em in. I knew as long as we didn’t mess up, we would have it.”


In a strange twist of fate, in the same race he experienced the success with his USRA car his motor suffered a setback and he ultimately sent the motor to Custom Race Engines in Tennessee to have it refreshed, which is one of the reasons he has sat out the USMTS events up until now.


Thornton’s other early season wins came at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Arizona, where he was nearly untouchable, going to victory lane on four straight occasions and finishing second in the finale. Of that race weekend Thornton said, “We got around to it, we won the championship, the finale was one of the best races I’ve ever been in, me and [Jesse] Sobbing ran a great race side-by-side, he was protecting and I went to the bottom trying to outsmart him but just couldn’t pull it off.”

The young driver went on to say, “I think we are the only ones who come in on an open trailer these days.” While Thornton doesn’t have a full-time crew, the senior Thornton helps his Son turn wrenches as does Thornton’s girlfriend, Savanna Tinch. “She really likes to work on the cars. Her Mom and Step Dad have been in racing most of their lives so she is familiar with things … I met her at the race track, sort of like my Mom and Dad met,” said Thornton.


Until his USRA motor makes its way back West via Tennessee, Thornton stated he will run IMCA shows.


If the alluring temps of the mild Southwest draw you to take in some winter racing, be sure to find your way to the events where Thornton is competing and you will quickly recognize his prowess on the tracks. Then, do yourself a favor and head to the pit area to talk with him face-to-face. In a sport full of “personalities,” Thornton has no chip on his shoulder, is thankful for everything he has, and most importantly, is down to Earth and realistic about where he is with his race program … certainly refreshing in this day and age!



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