PERRIS, Calif. — official series release — Doug Allen/PAS photo —
Young Tanner Thorson bested his Keith Kunz Motorsports teammates to win the 75th annual Turkey Night Grand Prix on Thursday night at Perris Auto Speedway.
Meanwhile, Tracy Hines closed out his full-time racing career by clinching the Honda USAC Midget National Championship by 18 points over Thorson, joining the elite “Triple Crown” club of drivers who have won all three USAC national touring championships.
Hines held off Thorson by just 18 points in the standings to claim his first midget title.
Bryan Clauson led from the front row as polesitter Kevin Thomas Jr. looked to overtake Hines and hold off Thorson for his own championship hopes. Early on, second-quick qualifier Kyle Larson nearly stalled in turn-three, dropping to tenth in the running order just a few laps into the race.
From there, the top-six separated themselves from the rest of the pack. The night’s ProSource/Woodland Auto Display Fast Qualifier, Rico Abreu, started making his moves after the lap-20 mark. He took third on lap 24 before tracking down Thomas, Jr. for the second spot on lap 27. He closed in on Clauson for the lead, as Christopher Bell took third on lap 32. Larson, meanwhile, was racing his way back forward as he took sixth on lap 33.
Disaster struck up front on lap 36 as Clauson slowed suddenly coming down the frontstretch, leaving Abreu with nowhere to go. Both cars visited the work area and were able to restart. Just before the red flag, Thomas had showed smoke and started to slow while running second, but he was able to continue on in his spot after the stoppage.
Bell inherited the lead, while teammates Thomas, Thorson, and Larson traded positions two through four as the race hit halfway, with Thorson taking over the second and Larson claiming third. Damion Gardner, who had started 17th, was moving through the pack and finally joined the top five just before halfway at lap 46.
Gardner took fourth from Thomas Jr. at lap 51 and brought Chad Boat with him. Boat was on the move and stuck with Gardner, but as the race hit 40 laps to go, Boat slowed suddenly in turn four and dove to the inside of the track, bringing out the yellow flag.
While Bell paced Thorson and Larson up front, eyes shifted to Abreu, who was all the way back into the top-five before swiping fourth from Gardner on lap 64. Up front, Thorson was trying to apply pressure to Bell with a big slider, but Bell was quick to match it with a crossover. Inside 30 to go, it became a three-way scrap for second as Larson took it from Thorson before Abreu came to dive-bomb both of them, grabbing second for just a moment.
With just nine laps to go, Ryan Bernal brought out a yellow after shredding his left-rear tire. With just nine laps to go, Thorson went after Bell for the lead. Abreu ran third ahead of Larson. With a big head of steam on lap 93, Thorson tried a huge slider into turn-three that crossed just in front of Bell’s nose, slowing his momentum. Bell crossed back but Thorson angled to the bottom in turn-one as Bell jumped to the top, catching the turn-one wall and flipping. He was unhurt.
With six laps to go, Thorson got a good restart and got away, but another yellow came just a lap later to take all lapped cars out of the equation up front. He went to the bottom as Abreu tried to get up enough momentum around the high side. Abreu’s left-rear tire was going down, though, and when he got sideways on lap 95, it finally went flat and he darted to the bottom to pull off the track.
It was clear sailing for Thorson over the final three laps as he registered his fourth win of the season by .799-seconds in the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports – Toyota TRD No. 67 Bullet/Speedway Toyota. That team also clinched the National Midget owner’s title.
“I just had to find a way to break Christopher’s momentum to give myself a shot to win it. We weren’t as good as him if he had clear track, but if I could just find a way to get him racing, we could move around as well as anyone,” Thorson said. “I knew it was gonna be tough with those guys lined up behind me, messing with me under yellow, but I changed my line up and hit it pretty well to finish it off. This is a tough race and especially with all those great guys to race against, so to finish off our season with this one really means a lot.”
Larson crossed the line second in another Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports – Toyota TRD No. 71K Bullet/Speedway Toyota, and Damion Gardner rounded out the podium in the Klatt Motorsports – East Enterprises No. 4 Beast/Stanton.
Clauson clawed his way back to fourth in the Jonathan Byrd’s Racing – Dooling Machine No. 63 Spike/Stanton Mopar, while Thomas, Jr. hung on to round out the top-five in the Toyota TRD – Bakken Concrete No. 67K Bullet/Speedway Toyota.
Ronnie Gardner completed his third-straight USAC Honda Western Midget Championship with a seventh-place finish.
RESULTS: Honda USAC National Midget Series; 75th annual Turkey Night Grand Prix; Perris Auto Speedway; Nov. 27, 2015
FEATURE: (98 laps) 1. Tanner Thorson, 2. Kyle Larson, 3. Damion Gardner, 4. Bryan Clauson, 5. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 6. Tracy Hines, 7. Ronnie Gardner, 8. Trey Marcham, 9. Dave Darland, 10. Danny Ebberts, 11. Rico Abreu, 12. Christopher Bell, 13. Cody Swanson, 14. Robert Dalby, 15. Ashley Hazelton, 16. Ryan Bernal, 17. Brady Bacon, 18. Chad Boat, 19. Randi Pankratz, 20. Brad Sweet, 21. Chase Stockon, 22. Tyler Dolacki. NT
** Abreu flipped on lap 36 of the feature. Bell flipped on lap 93 of the feature. **
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-35 Clauson, Laps 36-92 Bell, Laps 93-98 Thorson.
FINAL HONDA NATIONAL MIDGET POINTS: 1. Tracy Hines-823, 2. Tanner Thorson-805, 3. Kevin Thomas, Jr.-799, 4. Rico Abreu-759, 5. Spencer Bayston-642, 6. Tyler Thomas-622, 7. Jerry Coons, Jr.-607, 8. Christopher Bell-528, 9. Darren Hagen-398, 10. Dave Darland-385.
FINAL HONDA WESTERN MIDGET POINTS: 1. Ronnie Gardner-720, 2. Shannon McQueen-491, 3. Cody Swanson-462, 4. Terry Nichols-428, 5. Randi Pankratz-392, 6. Michael Faccinto-389, 7. Trey Marcham-383, 8. Brian Gard-319, 9. Nick Chivello-262, 10. Scott Pierovich-251.
CREDIT: USAC Racing