National Dirt
Thursday, 24 November 2016


USAC Western States Midget standout Frankie Guerrini. USAC Western States Midget standout Frankie Guerrini. Lance Jennings Photo


By: Richie Murray

In 2016, the legendary “Turkey Night Grand Prix” moves into a new era – a move to the one-fifth-mile bullring along the California coastline known as Ventura Raceway.

The seaside oval has hosted 138 USAC Midget races since the Western States Midgets made its debut there in 1986.  But it’s the first “Turkey Night” held at the scenic Ventura Raceway since 1997 when tonight’s co-grand marshals - driver Billy Boat and team owner John Lawson - teamed up to claim their third Thanksgiving Night victory in a row.

High drama has never been absent from “Turkey Night” since its inception in 1934, but the 76th running this year packs an extra punch with the addition of the USAC West Coast Sprint Cars, who will run features on consecutive nights.

The main storyline coming in, though, is the most storied open-wheel dirt track race of them all – the one every driver who sits behind the wheel of a midget aspires to win – the “Turkey Night Grand Prix.”

Featuring the best from USAC’s Western States and National Midget divisions, this year’s event truly has it all.  The best midget drivers in the country will battle for supremacy to determine the newest “Turkey Night” champ and there is also a National driver’s champion to determine.

Defending “Turkey Night” winner and current USAC National Midget point leader Tanner Thorson of Minden, Nevada holds a slim nine-point lead over Lebanon, Indiana’s Spencer Bayston.  Bayston, who aims to take his first shot at the “Turkey Night” this year, has held the point lead for much of the year by virtue of his consistency and a lone win in Gas City, Ind. in June. 

But after Thorson’s three straight victories at Tri-City Speedway’s “Gold Crown Nationals” in Granite City, Illinois and a runner-up finish in October’s “Jason Leffler Memorial” in Wayne City, Ill., the 20-year-old driver shot from fourth to first in the standings heading into the season finale at Ventura.

Those two drivers lead an eight-car Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports arsenal that not only includes the top-two in points, but also three series rookies from California who have proven to be impressive in their own right: leading rookie Carson Macedo of Lemoore, Sacramento’s Holly Shelton and Foresthill’s Ryan Robinson.

Add the five Kunz/Curb-Agajanian regulars to 2012 “Turkey Night” and Michigan NASCAR Sprint Cup winner Kyle Larson as well as 2014 USAC National Midget champion Rico Abreu and you truly have a lineup to reckon with. And that’s just one team!

Phoenix, Arizona’s Chad Boat, son of Billy, returned to run a full-time schedule in the USAC National Midgets this season and has been better than ever, winning three races: Fairbury, Neb. in August and taking a complete sweep of the “Belleville Midget Nationals” in Kansas.

Brady Bacon, of Broken Arrow, Okla., is a two-time USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champ, but knows how to sling a midget around, evidenced by his win in the series’ most recent race in Wayne City.

You can’t forget about the west coast contingent as well who hope to become the first Western States Midget regular to win “Turkey Night” since Billy Boat in 1995.

Norco, California’s Ronnie Gardner leads the Western standings as he aims for a fourth-straight series crown after scoring five wins this season, including one in May at Ventura.

Michael Faccinto of Hanford, California has shown he has the chops to beat the best of the best on the half-mile in Calistoga, Calif. in September.  Santa Clarita, California’s Cody Swanson returned to victory lane in Santa Maria, Calif. in September. Robby Josett won the last time out at Ventura in October to grab his first series win in six years!

Top-tier talent, the history and the pageantry; one race to determine who’s the baddest midget driver in all the land; ninety-eight laps to hang onto a bucking bronco on the Ventura bullring in this prestigious dirt track rodeo called the “Turkey Night Grand Prix.”

The 2016 “Turkey Night Grand Prix” at Ventura Raceway continues Thursday, Nov. 24 with ProSource/Woodland Auto Display USAC Midget qualifying, followed by preliminary events including qualifying races and a last chance qualifier that sets the field for the night’s 76th edition of the 98-lap feature.

In addition to the Midgets, the USAC West Coast Sprint Cars will be on the program, returning with multiple last chance qualifiers and concluding with a 30-lap feature.

Pit gates open at noon, with the drivers meeting at 2:45pm.  Cars are set to be on track at 3:30pm with racing scheduled for 5:30pm.