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LOS ANGELES – Interesting facts from USAC crossed my desk this week. I've compiled other pertinent information about the 80th running of the USAC National Midget Thanksgiving Midget Classic at Ventura Raceway. They will serve as an appetizer for the most historic and tradition-laden midget auto race in existence just a few days before the 2021 edition on Saturday, November 27. USAC Western and VRA 360 ci sprint cars are on the program as well as they have been at Ventura since 2016.
USAC posted the pre-entry roster on November 17 for the upcoming Thanksgiving Midget GP (known for many decades as the Turkey Night GP). The headline read: “Stacked, star-studded, steller.” That's an understatement. There are 51 pre-entered midgets. Headliners include: the last two NASCAR Cup driving champions—Kyle Larson (2021) and his Rick Hendrick Chevrolet teammate Chase Elliott (2020). The NASCAR teammates will be teammates in a pair of Kyle Larson-owned midgets—No 1K for Larson and No. 9E for Elliott.
The 2021 USAC National Midget championship is a tight, position-swapping duel between NorCal's Michael “Buddy” Kofoid, 18, and Illini Chris Windom. Kofoid's early start in open-wheel racing in midgets and sprint cars at 13 years of age and his immediate prowess are reminiscent of Larson's early racing talent in midgets and sprints. Kofoid has won five main events in the series this season and Windom has seven midget victories. They have swapped the point lead recently. Kofoid currently leads the USAC National Midget points by 18 (2362 - 2344) after 37 of 40 scheduled events.
The series has mid-week races November 23-24 at Merced Speedway (33 midgets entered as did Indy 500 three-time top ten finisher Santino Ferrucci) prior to ending the season in Ventura. The busy USAC campaign is concluding 2021 with nine “western swing” races in two states at five dirt tracks. Friday-Saturday, November 12-13 the series had 25 midgets at Arizona Speedway east of Phoenix. Justin Grant (No. 2J) and Windom (89) won the 30-lap mains. On Tuesday, November 16, 34 midgets raced at the third-mile Bakersfield Speedway; Kofoid (67) won a 30-lapper.
Three nights at the quarter-mile Placerville Fairgrounds track had 49 midgets present. Ryan Timms, from Oklahoma, became the youngest ever USAC National Midget feature winner at 15 years, three months, 12 days. The second 30-lapper on Friday went to Kyle Larson driving his own No. 1K at his home track. The sold-out crowd Saturday witnessed a 28-car 100-lap feature. Several drivers led but Grant won his second main of the western swing and his third this season. With sunny, clear weather on tap for the Merced doubleheader and for Ventura, fans are in store for exciting competition at the three concluding events.
The 2021 USAC National Midget campaign has sanctioned races in 14 different states. They are: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Indiana led with 15 events, including eight races in nine days during Indiana Midget Week in early June. There were four rainouts.
ENTRANTS BY STATES: The 51 pre-entered Thanksgiving Midget GP drivers represent 13 different states. As expected, California leads with 30 drivers. Six hail from Oklahoma, three from Indiana, and two each from Illinois and Texas. One driver each is from Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, North Carolina, and Washington.
Five female drivers entered this year. Maria Cofer, Randi Pankratz and Kaylee Bryson, will be joined by rookies Taylor Reimer and Jade Avidisian. Bryson and Reimer are Oklahomans who race the entire USAC midget circuit. Two past Thanksgiving Midget GP winners are in the field. Tanner Thorson won at Perris in 2015. Larson won at Perris in 2012 and at Ventura in 2016 and 2019. His recent annual duels and repeated slide job passes in the Ventura corners with NASCAR Cup driver Christopher Bell are memorable.
Larson had a parade in his honor Monday, November 22 at 2 pm in Elk Grove, his hometown near Sacramento. It honored his NASCAR Cup 2021 championship and ten victories (six more than anyone else), plus his Tulsa Chili Bowl midget, Knoxville Nationals and Eldora Kings Royal sprint car triumphs, major dirt late model wins, and scores of additional triumphs that made it a dream season.
Car counts at Ventura's Thanksgiving GP for the last three years have shown resiliency. Pre-COVID-19 the midget car counts have gone from 50 in 20l7 to 63 in 2018 and 68 in 2019. The 360 sprints have gone from 49 in 2017 to 42 a year later and 28 last year. Ventura Raceway constructor and promoter Jim Naylor prepares the track each year; he should have the track in racy condition with the lack of recent rainfall. Automotive Racing Products of Ventura has increased its sponsorship by $15,000 and spread money throughout the field. The GP winner will receive $10,000 instead of $6,000 as in the past.
ROOKIES: More than 20 first-time Thanksgiving midget drivers are entered this year. Some of them are talented teenagers who have already won USAC midget features. They include: Ryan Timms, Emerson Axsom, and possibly Corey Day. Veteran teens to watch include: Kofoid, 2019 TNGP race leader and runner-up Cannon McIntosh, Blake Bower (2021 BCRA Midget champion), Zeb Wise, and Brenham Crouch.
DON BASILE ROOKIE OF THE RACE: Each year the highest finishing TNGP driver has received the rookie award and $500 bonus from Bob Basile, the son of late NSCHoF inductee. Kasey Kahne (pre-NASCAR) won the first award in 1998 at Bakersfield Speedway. There are seven past Basile Rookie of the Race winners entered in 2021. They are: Kyle Larson (P4 - 2011 at Irwindale), Ryan Bernal (P3 - 2012) and Tanner Thorson (P3 - 2013) at Perris, and the last four at Ventura—Carson Macedo (P3 -2016), Zeb Wise (P5 - 2017), Jason McDougal (P8 - 2018) and Cannon McIntosh (P2 - 2019). Star rookiesThorson won the 2015 GP in Perris and Larson won the race three times (2012 in Perris, and 2016 and 2019 in Ventura). Ron Shuman is an eight-time TNGP winner.
This year the 80th Thanksgiving GP 51 car field has 34 cars entered from 12 multi-car teams. They are: five cars – Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian (cars 01, 25k, 67, 71 and 97); four cars – Placerville “Hangtown 100” race promoter and Elk Grove Ford dealer Matt Wood (cars 07w, 17w, 37w and 87w); three cars each – NP Motorsports (cars 1em, 1n, and 1p); Dean Alexander (cars 5, 5k and 5t); Reinhold-Underwood (cars 19a, 19az and 19t); Josh Ford (cars 73, 73b and 73x); Chad Boat (cars 85, 86 and 89); two cars each from Kyle Larson (cars 1k and 9e); RMS Racing (cars 2j and 7x); Bundy Built (cars 9m and 19m); Tom Malloy (cars (25 and 25m); and Rudeen Racing (cars 26 and 26r). There are 12 sets of duplicate car numbers.