”It's a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix.”
Justin Grant’s dream became a reality at California’s Ventura Raceway as he charged, withstood, battled, banged and tussled for 98 laps en route to victory during Saturday night’s tumultuous 81st running of the ARP TNGP featuring the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship.
The Ione, Calif. native started 13th in the 28-car field, then picked his path all the way to the front by blazing past 2015 race winner Tanner Thorson with 15 laps remaining to achieve what so many other frontrunners could not on this evening – stay out of trouble and stay put up front.
A cavalcade of race leaders ultimately found their winning efforts end abruptly due to a bevy of incidents which spared nobody, including top-notch talent like Buddy Kofoid, Cannon McIntosh, Carson Macedo and Tanner Thorson.
Not Grant, however, who had yet to finish inside the top-five in each of his three career Turkey Night starts dating back to 2017. This night belonged to the individual who, not so long ago, could be found on the other side of the fence in the grandstands viewing the Thanksgiving weekend classic as a spectator.
“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant recalled. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”
Grant’s 14th career USAC National Midget feature victory aboard his RMS Racing/NOS Energy Drink – EnviroFab – Response Management Services/Spike/Speedway Toyota tied him with Chuck Arnold, Jack Turner, Leroy Warriner and Chris Windom for 51st on the series’ all-time win list.
Furthermore, Grant’s sixth series win of the 2022 season consisted of triumphs in both the first and last events of the season, making him one of just seven individuals to achieve that particular feat in the 67-year history of the series: Parnelli Jones (1964), Rich Vogler (1984), Billy Boat (1996), Jason Leffler (1999), Tony Stewart (2000) and Tanner Thorson (2020).
Early on, however, the class of the field was back-to-back series champion Buddy Kofoid who, like Grant, was also seeking his first career Turkey Night winning experience. Kofoid took off around the outside of pole sitter Kevin Thomas Jr. at the green and served as the centerpiece for the majority of the first half of the affair.
Mitchel Moles and Jonathan Beason were the two earliest misfortunate ones who found themselves upside down. Moles, the 2022 USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year, flipped over in turn one while contesting the 15th position on lap 10. On the 31st lap, Turkey Night Rookie Jonathan Beason ramped over the left side wheels of Spencer Bayston in turn one as the pair dueled for 17th.
Third-starting Cannon McIntosh, who had earlier begun his forward trajectory by nipping Thomas at the stripe by a wheel for second on lap 24, then made his way into the lead as he ripped around the outside of Kofoid to lead the 45th go around just before the halfway mark.
Just as soon as McIntosh established his dominant stance at the front of the field, along came Carson Macedo and Tanner Thorson into the scene. Macedo went topside to third around Thomas in turn four on lap 53 while Thorson followed suit to fourth under Thomas in between turns three and four on the 54th circuit.
Thorson and Macedo tossed each other sliders at will with Thorson taking the third spot away on lap 62 and Macedo returning the favor two laps later by reclaiming third from Thorson with a turn one slide job. On a lap 66 restart, the never-ending story of Macedo and Thorson’s crusade to the front carried on with Macedo swiping second from Kofoid in turn one while Thorson slipped by Kofoid as well to move himself up to third and drop Kofoid back to fourth.
However, that moment preceded circumstances that turned a relatively tame race into a fever pitch of sorts when Thorson clobbered the turn two cushion on lap 68. As Thorson’s car hooked left on the rebound, it occupied the path of the trailing Kofoid who ramped over Thorson’s front end and proceeded to barrel roll 3.5 times down the back straight, ending his championship season in an undesirable position, although he was able to walk away.
Now, that set forth Grant on his mission to third on the lap 68 restart past Thorson. The two went toe-to-toe, exchanging haymakers in the process until making contact in turn four, which dropped Thorson to fifth momentarily until entering the highline of turns one and two where he slipped sideways on lap 70, resulting in a calamity that took out Tyler Courtney (8th), Thomas Meseraull (10th) and Emerson Axsom (11th) who all stopped while Thorson continued on after being broadsided by Courtney.
The merry-go-round of misfortune befell race leader Cannon McIntosh who biked and nearly flipped before landing on all fours in turn on the 71st lap. After leading 26 laps, heartbreak hit McIntosh’s bid for victory and handed the lead off to Macedo who, himself, biked on the opposite end of the 1/5-mile dirt oval, which sent him into the wall and tipped over on his side on lap 78. Victory was out of the question for Macedo, but he did recover enough to finish with a ninth place result.
Grant led the field to the green on lap 78, but his lead proved to be short-lived as Thorson slid past in the first turn on lap 79 to go to the top of the board. For the next five laps, the two waged a war of who could blink first. Neither gave an inch nor a twitch nor a blink of the eye as they exchanged punches but kept on digging. Finally, for Grant, his persistence paid off when he drifted straight across the nose of Thorson in the third and fourth turns to overtake the position with a mere 15 laps to go on track 84.
A tricky proposition to defeat, Grant began sliding himself into turns one and three, with Thorson making a steady chase a way under or around, but he found it initially, ably sliding past Grant in turn three with 14 laps remaining but was unable to hold as Grant countered the move by scooting past underneath. Thorson gave chase for the next several laps until he too was snakebit by spinning on his own between turns three and four, ending his run with a 19th place result.
“I love racing with Tanner Thorson,” Grant stated. “I know a lot of guys don’t and a lot of guys don’t like racing with me. Tanner and I take the gloves off and we go at it; it’s an absolute blast. We were pulling out every trick in the book we knew to try and get each other pocketed, crossed over and repocketed. I don’t know if it looks like two idiots bashing around on the cushion but there’s so much race craft there and not getting yourself crashed and just paying attention. He rolled up right next to me when the yellow came out, blew my nose off, buzzed the tires like he was mad, and our adrenaline was still up. Then, a lap later, he rolled up next to me and he’s like, ‘we’re good; we’re having fun.’”
With his stiffest competition out of the picture, Grant’s path was now a bit clearer. But one individual back a bit further in the field was beginning to flex his muscle – Kyle Larson. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion and three-time Turkey Night winner started 22nd and had elevated into the top-five by the time of the final restart. He quickly expelled fourth and third, then to second with four laps to go as he climbed the turn three infield berm, ricocheted off Thomas, completing the pass while all four wheels were airborne!
However, it wasn’t enough to run down Grant. In a race that no leader seemed to be able to put their full grasp upon, Grant took control and never relented as he closed the night and turned out the lights with a 1.367 second margin of victory over Larson, Bryant Wiedeman, Jake Andreotti and Thomas.
Three-time Turkey Night winner Kyle Larson (Elk Grove, Calif.) was an unexpected entrant into the race, only deciding to participate about 36 hours earlier on Thursday evening following a glass or two of wine on Thanksgiving night while watching video of a few classic Turkey Night Grand Prix races. Larson placed a phone call to CB Industries team owner Chad Boat, and by Saturday afternoon, Larson was signing in to compete at Ventura Raceway.
In an incredible stat line, in 10 career Turkey Night Grand Prix starts, Larson now owns three wins, four seconds, a third and two fourths, adding another top-notch run on Saturday night in his CB Industries/PristineAuction.
“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson explained. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end. I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into one and get clear off two if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”
It's been a very good year for Bryant Wiedeman on the USAC National Midget trail. He started all 33 features and finished on the podium on four occasions. The Colby, Kansas driver closed out the year with one of his finest performances yet, bringing home third at the Turkey Night Grand Prix in his Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian/Nutrien Ag Solutions – PurpleWave.com/Bullet By Spike/Speedway Toyota.
“We were definitely good on the bottom early and I think we were good there late too,” Wiedeman stated. “I had a chance for second there and just got to racing with Jake (Andreotti) and (Kevin Thomas Jr.), and that was a lot of fun there at the end racing with those kind of guys. It was just good clean racing, and it was a blast.”
Jake Andreotti (Castro Valley, Calif.) has been impressive throughout the entire USAC National Midget California swing. The USAC Western States Midget standout finished a strong fourth in his first run at Turkey Night. That earned him the distinction as the 2022 Don Basile Rookie of the Race.
To start the night, Kevin Thomas Jr. scored Fatheadz Fast Qualifying time to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix pole position for the second time in his career, previously starting P1 in 2019. It was the Cullman, Ala. driver’s eighth career fast qualifying time with the USAC National Midgets. Oddly enough, six of his eight fast times have come either in the season opener or the season closer.