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Published: Friday, 6/16/2006

Not in Charlotte? No problem for Thor

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Crew members prepare to be timed during pit stop practice inside the ThorSport warehouse in Sandusky. Crews practice two pit stops per day at the facility. Crew members prepare to be timed during pit stop practice inside the ThorSport warehouse in Sandusky. Crews practice two pit stops per day at the facility.
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SANDUSKY - The fastest ride in town is not where most people think they'll find it. It's not the Magnum, the Millennium Force, or even the Top Thrill Dragster, with its top speed of 120 mph.

The fastest ride in town is not at Cedar Point, the city's famous amusement park. No, but hidden in an unadorned metal pole building, tucked behind a row of cottonwood trees and a nondescript chain link fence, you'll find a dozen screaming machines that will push 200 mph if you let them.

Set back well off South Campbell Street, inside the ThorWorks compound where they daily make prodigious quantities of roof and pavement coatings, is the headquarters of ThorSport Racing, one of the longest operating teams in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

ThorSport, which will field two entries in tomorrow's Con-Way Freight 200 at Michigan International Speedway, has made a go of it far removed from the center of the stock car racing universe in Charlotte. It is 444 straight line miles from the front gate at ThorSport to the Mecca of racing - and a lot more if you drive it.

"The commitment to racing and being competitive at a high level is there, and really that's all that matters," said Kerry Earnhardt, who along with Matt Crafton drives for ThorSport.

"Where the team is located isn't that big a deal. They've got the people, they've got the equipment and the resources, and it's as serious a racing operation as there is."

The primary reason ThorSport is much closer to world class walleye fishing and the ferry ride to Canada than it is to stately antebellum houses or Lowe's Motor Speedway is that team owner Duke Thorson has his business, ThorWorks, based here.

"Duke likes it close, and he's brought the right group of people here, so the location of the team is really a non-issue," Crafton said. "The only real difference between us and the North Carolina based teams is that we maybe don't have the quantity of people some of them do. But we have all quality people, and people who put their hearts into this and work their butts off."

Thorson, much like the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, shuns publicity and leaves the external relations chore to team manager David Pepper, a native of Owensboro, Ky., with a solid racing pedigree.

"At first it strikes a lot of people as a little bit odd that there's a racing team located here, way up in northern Ohio. But being successful in racing is about the people you have, the resources available to you, and the depth of the commitment to winning," Pepper said. "The geography part is not that critical, so what motivated me to make the move up here was simply that Duke is very serious about wanting to win races."

After nine events this season, Crafton is tenth in points in the Truck Series with four top-10 finishes. Earnhardt is 25th in the standings, but led the race at Texas Motor Speedway last week, and said the horizon holds even better things for the team.

"We're usually real fast right off the truck, and we've gained a lot, so we're getting real close to where we're competitive every week," he said. "We usually seem to be as fast as the leaders, but we can't seem to get track position."

Seen through empty wheel wells, ThorSport fabricator Zac Teusher installs a lead box cover under a truck. Seen through empty wheel wells, ThorSport fabricator Zac Teusher installs a lead box cover under a truck.
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Pepper said his teams are "still fighting that little black cloud that's been chasing us" but he's convinced ThorSport soon will be more than the best racing team located on Lake Erie, and be one of the best in the country.

"This is a great work environment, because you don't get a lot of outside distractions here," Pepper said. "For a lot of the teams in the Charlotte area, if a guy has a bad day and finds out he can get a dollar an hour more someplace else, he just rolls his tool box across the lot and goes to work. Being located here forces guys to get along a little more and work through things."

Pepper said ThorSport has the attention to detail necessary to succeed, and make its location irrelevant. The team's two trucks had their best finish ever last season, and are on pace to improve even more this year.

"There's a pride here that is part of the fabric, and the people in this building are proud to be part of ThorSport Racing, You see it in the performance of these trucks," Pepper said. "Not all racing is in North Carolina. You can compete, and compete at a high level in any series, and you can compete in NASCAR racing from just about anywhere. It is all a matter of how you go about the business of racing."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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