NEWTON, Iowa — Days after a fire caused significant damage to its Sandusky, Ohio, race shop, ThorSport Racing continues to assess and move forward.
It’s been a trying week for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as the organization recovers from a fire that broke out shortly around 12:30 a.m. Monday morning. Firefighters worked well into the day to contain the fire. No one was injured, and the cause of the fire is still unknown.
“Obviously, we’re behind the eight ball a little bit,” David Pepper, ThorSport Racing’s general manager said on Friday at Iowa Speedway. “We need to come here and have a good, solid performance. That will do as much to keep the morale up as anything. We did lose some equipment, but we’re in a good position to keep going.”
Pepper estimated that 40 percent of the shop was destroyed by the fire and while there is no timeline to move back in, every intention is to rebuild and move back into the space.
“If you would have asked me that Monday, I would have told you I’m not sure we’re going to save the building. Now we’re 72 hours out and the extent of the damage from all the pictures that folks are seeing was just trying to put the fire out. The fire was between the walls and ceiling, so it forced us to bring in an excavator and knock the walls down.
“The suspension department, our hard fab department, paint and body — they were either severely damaged or lost in the fire. The remaining part of the shop suffered a lot of water and smoke damage. But, until the inspectors get in there and really see where we are, it’s hard to set a timeline.”
Despite the adversity, the organization’s four Toyota entries of Matt Crafton (No. 88), Cameron Hayley (No. 13), Rico Abreu (No. 98) and Ben Rhodes (No. 41) are here at Iowa Speedway ready to compete this weekend in Saturday night’s Speediatrics 200 (8:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). As of now, the team plans to run its full-time competition schedule for all four of its entries.
Pepper said all the trucks had some type of smoke and/or water damage and that several brand-new chassis in the back section of the shop are probably lost as well as most of the team’s equipment for Gateway Motorsports Park. The Truck Series will race there next weekend in the Drivin’ For Lineman 200 (June 25, 8:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The response that ThorSport has received across the racing community and its local community in Sandusky has been tremendous. Teams here at Iowa have brought the four-truck team various parts and pieces needed. Sandusky businesses brought food to shop workers and first responders, and that support continued as the team moved to work on its trucks.
“The first 24 hours, I got over 400 text messages and emails from competitors,” Pepper said. “Red Horse Racing, KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports), GMS (Racing), just in the Truck Series. Had some Cup teams offer up haulers and pit boxes. Across the entire spectrum of racing, whether it be local short track guys at Sandusky that we know, ARCA guys because we competed in ARCA for a number of years – offering up anything that we needed to get to these races.”
“You can not say thank you, thank you, thank you enough to your competitors,” Pepper said.
Pepper said if it wasn’t for the first responders that arrived on scene, the team’s Iowa plans may not have come to fruition.
“We had fire departments from four different locations in the county there. They were literally pushing race trucks out. They’re big race fans. They know us. They’re putting a fire out and they’re in full fire gear asking us what trucks do they need to push out to us so we can be here at Iowa this week. They were in there pushing them to the door and then we’d take them the rest of the way. We would not be here racing without those guys.”
In the wake of the fire, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team set up shop in several places, including the vacant parking lot of a Kroger grocery store to work on its fleet of trucks. With the 100,000 square foot building that opened in 2011 “uninhabitable” due to the damage and cleanup from the fire, it marked a back-to-basics, old-school approach to racing for the organization.
“Kind of went back to the late ’90s of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series when we used to work in parking lots at Sears stores, so for the old guard there at the race shop, it was kind of a throwback and in some ways not that bad. Some of the young guys were pretty amazed that we used to build these things out in parking lots in between races out on the West Coast. We’re prepared.”
The team also rallied together in what Pepper called “the best team-building process we’ve ever had” with different members running in to get items for any of the team’s four trucks. And in light of the events, Pepper expects no dropoff in the team’s performance.
“It won’t affect anything whether we’re building them in parking lots, whether we’re staying at race tracks and asking them to let us stay late and build them,” Pepper said.
“We have to build race trucks that keep the points lead, put all our trucks in the Chase and win a championship. The goals hven’t changed. They just can’t. There cannot be a built in excuse for this. This is when we have to show our leadership and lead this team to where it needs to be and that’s out front as one of the premier teams that we feel we are.”
Team co-owner Duke Thorson started small when the team began 20 years ago, fielding one primary entry until 2004, when the team moved to two full-time trucks. The organization fielded a part-time third truck for a few years after that, before adding a third full-time entry in 2014 and expanding to a fourth team this year.
ThorSport is the longest-tenured team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, having competed since 1996. The organization has earned two driver championships with Crafton behind the wheel in 2013 and 2014.
Pepper said that at breakfast for the team this week, co-owner Duke Thorson delivered a simple message to the group but one that Pepper believes will resonate.
He “told us ‘Hey, you keep going, we go to the races, we go to win every week and we’re going to rebuild. We’re going to rebuild it better than it was before and we’ll be stronger for it.’ “
Written by: RJ Kraft, NASCAR.com