ThorSport Racing regrouping after fire leaves shop unusable

ThorSport Racing crewmen spent Tuesday working in various parking lots on the street that once housed a glistening, 100,000-square-foot shop of a championship-winning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team based in Sandusky, Ohio.

The shop is unusable, with about 40 percent destroyed from fire and the rest with smoke and water damage, according to team general manager David Pepper.

A couple of crewmen doing wiring on one of the team's race trucks smelled smoke in the building shortly after midnight Monday and found the fire, which would eventually take more than 16 hours to put out with 14 fire trucks and four ladder trucks responding.

Firemen also helped push race trucks out, allowing the team to salvage 15 of the 18 race trucks in its fleet, Pepper said. The team fields trucks for current series points leader and two-time champion Matt Crafton as well as Ben Rhodes, Rico Abreu and Cameron Hayley.

"They were in full fire gear in a full smoke-engulfed building, and they were pushing out race trucks to make sure we had something to race with," Pepper said. "I don't know how you put into words what they did. They didn't have to do that."

The fabrication shop and the suspension shop were destroyed, and the paint shop and the machine shop, where they would make parts and pieces for the trucks, are all unusable. Offices and areas where the teams would work on mostly completed trucks to set up for races were not a total loss. Any piece for the race trucks that would be considered potentially compromised cannot be used to race, Pepper said.

Pepper said he hopes the team can return to some areas of the shop in four to six weeks, but it will take possibly 18 months to rebuild. The team is looking for a temporary home, and it has gotten an incredible response from the Sandusky community and the racing community, who have offered help, including shop space, Pepper said. Some teams will bring parts and pieces the team needs for this weekend but the teams are ready to race, Pepper said.

The cause of the fire and an estimate of damages will be determined by the Ohio Fire Marshal, which will conduct an investigation. The shop, completed in 2011, is part of a complex owned by team owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson family, which operate coatings company ThorWorks Industries.

"How much it cost, it's hard to measure that in dollars and cents," Pepper said. "Half this team has been here for upwards of a decade. We watched ourselves build this from our small shop ... to the beautiful state-of-the-art facility that we had. It's hard to put a dollar value on your heart and soul that you poured into something."