Perris, California…As young Tanner Thorson from Minden, Nevada bested his Keith Kunz Motorsports teammates to win the 75th Annual “Turkey Night Grand Prix” on Thursday night at Perris Auto Speedway, Tracy Hines was closing out his career as a full-time USAC competitor with the Honda Midget National Championship to join the exclusive “Triple Crown” club. Hines held off Thorson by just 18 points in the final standings.
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, who took home the amazing “Jason Leffler Memorial Fast Time Award honoring Larry Howard” for his lap, 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. He spun around and flopped over, drawing a red flag. Both cars visited the work area and were able to restart. Just before the red, Thomas, Jr. 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, Jr., Thorson, and Larson traded positions 2-4 as the race hit halfway, with Thorson taking over the second spot and Larson eventually 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. He retired, as well as top-ten running Brady Bacon.
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 thirty 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 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 #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. 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,” Thorson said.
Larson crossed in another Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports – Toyota TRD #71K Bullet/Speedway Toyota, and Damion Gardner rounded out the podium in the Klatt Motorsports – East Enterprises #4 Beast/Stanton. Bryan Clauson clawed his way back to fourth in the Jonathan Byrd’s Racing – Dooling Machine #63 Spike/Stanton Mopar, while Thomas, Jr. hung on to round out the top-five in the Toyota TRD – Bakken Concrete #67K Bullet/Speedway Toyota.
With his sixth-place finish, Tracy Hines sewed up the driver’s championship by 18 markers in the Parker Machinery – Turbines, Inc. #24 Spike/Stanton Toyota over Thorson. He joins Pancho Carter, Tony Stewart, J.J. Yeley, Dave Darland, and Jerry Coons, Jr. as other drivers to win all three USAC National championships.
“It’s really just a relief to end it and do this in the final night. I’ve been running every race and chasing points for 20 years, and it just has worn me down. I’m happy to have something good to do that is involved with racing now after my driving days, and I’m happy to go out on top winning the championship in this division. It’s been a trying year at times, but we persevered and met this goal. To join such a great group of racers who have won the Triple Crown is pretty cool, as I know them all and raced against all but one, and we’ve battled with each other all along the way,” Hines said.
Ronnie Gardner completed his third-straight USAC Honda Western Midget Championship with a seventh-place finish in the Six-8 Motorsports – Baldozier Racing #68 Stewart/Esslinger.
USAC HONDA NATIONAL/WESTERN MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: November 26, 2015 – Perris, California – Perris Auto Speedway – 75th “Turkey Night Grand Prix”
QUALIFICATIONS: 1. Rico Abreu, 97, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-17.379; 2. Kyle Larson, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-17.395; 3. Christopher Bell, 71, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-17.425; 4. Tanner Thorson, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-17.428; 5. Bryan Clauson, 63, RKR/Dooling-17.435; 6. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 67K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-17.446; 7. Chase Stockon, 25, Rodela-17.469; 8. Tracy Hines, 24, Parker-17.489; 9. Chad Boat, 15x, Boat-17.498; 10. Ronnie Gardner, 68, Six8-17.577; 11. Ryan Bernal, 73x, Ford-17.587; 12. Cody Swanson, 71s, Swanson-17.644; 13. Brad Sweet, 67z, Kahne-17.645; 14. Damion Gardner, 4, Klatt-17.836; 15. Tyler Dolacki, 18, Dolacki-17.917; 16. Trey Marcham, 73, Ford-18.016; 17. Robert Dalby, 4D, Dalby-18.173; 18. Danny Ebberts, 5, Van Dyne-18.307; 19. Dave Darland, 81, Watt/Sala/Curb-Agajanian-18.433; 20. Randi Pankratz, 8, Pankratz-18.663; 21. Ashley Hazelton, 15, Hazelton-18.695; 22. Brady Bacon, 76m, Manafort-NT.
FIRST HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Sweet, 2. Abreu, 3. R. Gardner, 4. Marcham, 5. Thorson, 6. Stockon, 7. Bacon, 8. Darland. 2:20.78
SECOND HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Larson, 2. Hines, 3. Clauson, 4. Bernal, 5. D. Gardner, 6. Dalby, 7. Pankratz. NT
THIRD HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Bell, 2. Swanson, 3. Thomas, 4. Boat, 5. Ebberts, 6. Dolacki, 7. Hazelton. 2:22.13
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.