After dominating four-win season, Thorne becomes a force to be reckoned with
It would be a fair assumption that few people outside of the hardcore Pro Mod fans knew Kris Thorne’s name before the 2022 season launched, but after scoring four wins and outdueling one of the class’ all-time greats to win the world championship and leading from the first race to the last, it’s a sure bet that his name won’t soon be forgotten.
Entering the year, Thorne had competed in just seven NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series races – beginning with a DNQ at the 2019 Bristol event, highlighted by a pair of semifinals in 2020, and lowlighted by a top-end tumble at the 2020 NHRA U.S. Nationals – but the former PDRA championship runner-up, whose entry into the class came behind the wheel of the ex-Troy Coughlin twin-turbo Corvette that terrorized NHRA Pro Mod in 2016 and 2017, came roaring into 2022 with a new ProCharger combination beneath the hood of his sinister all-black Camaro.
After the crash in Indy in 2020, which came in the Camaro with the transplanted turbo combination, the team ran just once, in Gainesville, in 2021 while they tested and worked on the ProCharger combination and immediately began laying waste to the field at the 2022 season opener at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals to kick off a full season that wasn’t originally even planned.
“We were actually just planning to kind of poke around at a few races this season to see how we were, but I figured we’re going to drop back and regroup and build a better program,” he said. “We tested a lot in ’21 with this combo, and it just paid off right away.”
The victory in Gainesville, capped with a final-round defeat of Sidnei Frigo, was followed by another win, at the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, where he finished ahead of Lyle Barnett, Rickie Smith, and Stan Shelton to claim his second straight win.
Smith, the wily class veteran and acknowledged king of the class, got his revenge on Thorne at the NHRA Virginia Nationals, where he halted Thorne’s winning streak at nine rounds in the semifinals, but Thorne bounced right back to win at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, where he turned the tables on Smith in a tight 5.79 to 5.82 final-round decision.
Smith got revenge at the next event, the NHRA Heartland Nationals in Topeka, besting Thorne in the semifinals again, but Smith fell a round later in the final round to minimize the damage and headed into the second half of the season with a comfortable 99-point lead.
Two weeks later, Thorne won the inaugural D-Wagon NHRA Pro Mod Shootout held on Saturday of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, where he also qualified No. 1 for the second time in 2022.
So much had gone so right for Thorne that he was shocked when his normally reliable ride shook the tires in a first-round defeat against Doug Winters on Sunday in Brainerd.
“That’s the first time all year that we rattled the tires on that car,” he said, still sounding a little shocked months later. “The car didn’t even move a half foot and just Top Fueled the tires out of nowhere. We still don’t know what the heck happened. I stayed over on Monday to test the car, and it went right down Monday morning. I still don’t understand what went wrong.”
To make matters worse, Smith won the event to pull to within 25 points of Thorne. The mark of a champion is the ability to overcome trips, right the balance, and continue with confidence, and a strong showing at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals certainly helped. Thorne again qualified No. 1 and reached the finals but was undone by a -.007 red-light against Barnett. The silver lining was Smith’s second-round exit.
“After Indy, I thought we had a shot at the championship, but Rickie was there every race,” Thorne said. “If we won the final, he was always in the other lane. I figured either he would take it from us or we’d get lucky and hold onto it.”
Just as Thorne seemed to find his footing, the team entered the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at a decided disadvantage as tuner Jamie Miller was unable to attend. And the results showed in an uncharacteristic No. 13 qualifying berth and a first-round exit. Smith again went out early, but former world champ Stevie “Fast” Jackson suddenly entered the playoff scenario with a big win.
“When I red-lighted first round, I figured that was it,” he admitted. “Then Rickie lost, but Steve came around and won that race and was in third, so I thought I was done at that point.”
Against all odds, Thorne and Smith were paired in the first round at the NHRA Midwest Nationals, the penultimate event of the Pro Mod season. Thorne’s lead was just over two rounds, so it was a make-or-break moment for both, but Smith’s car got loose 200 feet into the run, and he watched Thorne drive away to a probable championship.
Disheartened by the loss, Smith didn’t even compete at the season finale at the Texas NHRA FallNationals, leaving Jackson as the last hurdle for Thorne.
Jackson had to qualify No. 1 and win the race and hope that Thorne went out in the first round. Jackson and Thorne ran identical 5.739s in qualifying, but Jackson did get the No. 1 spot on speed, 254.77 to 252.34, which could have portended bad things, but Throne and team put their heads down and beat Rickey Fischer in round one to clinch the championship. They didn’t stop there, going on to win the event, their fourth of the season.
“We were just there to run our race,” he said. “We pretty much had the car to beat all year, so we just made sure all of our ducks [were] in a row and went out there and did our thing.”
Thorne thanked his parents, Karl and Michelle, who own the team, wife Trisha, tuner Jamie Miller, his son, Johnny, and Craig Pettis, and he acknowledged the support of ProLine Racing, M&M Transmissions, Smith Brothers Pushrods, ProCharger, Carmack Engineering, LAT Racing Oils. Outlaw Racing Fuels, NGK Spark Plugs, Boggs Gasses, and the family business, Thorne Site Development.