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Racing Scene - Midget Results

Racing Scene - Midget Results
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Los Angeles, CA. - The Wednesday, November 26 only 5:00-9:00 pm Turkey Night Grand Prix practice session at Perris Auto Speedway was for midgets only. Temperature was in the mid-70s and was still 66 degrees when practice for the Thanksgiving 74th running of the midget classic concluded at 9:00. Thirty-four midgets were on the track compared to 44 last year. No cars crashed and every driver had numerous laps to dial in their midgets. No lap times were recorded because transponders were not issued until Thursday.

Two midgets entered in the TNGP had mechanical problems during Wednesday practice and scratched from Thursday racing. Chris Ennis, 28, from Bakersfield, had the engine of his No. 86 Spike/Chevy fail. He loaded up but stayed to watch racing Thursday. The No. 5 Tres Van Dyne midget was raced two years ago by current NASCAR driver Alex Bowman and last year by Danny Ebberts. This year Ebberts, a 2002-03 USAC Silver Crown (No. 44) driver, practiced in the car Wednesday, but electrical problems precluded racing it Thursday.

There were three No. 56 cars pitted together. The 2012 Beast/Esslinger is now owned by So Cal sprint car veteran Jack Hawley, of Menifee. The son of the late motorcycle, midget and CRA sprint car driver Don Hawley bought the midget and practiced it Wednesday but did not enter Thursday's GP. Jack bought one of the three Shane Hmiel Team “5ifty 6ix” Racing cars. He only intended to practice Wednesday and race it next year. The No. 56 Triple X 2014 chassis with Esslinger power was raced by Darren Hagen, of Riverside. He drove it to his second TNGP runner-up finish (he also finished second to Caleb Armstrong at Irwindale in 2011). The No. 56x team car raced by Kevin Thomas, Jr, is a 2012 Beast/Esslinger and also carried Great Clips sponsorship.

DRIVERS BY STATES: The 34 drivers Thursday came from nine states. California led with 20 drivers. Indiana sent four, Oklahoma three and No. Carolina two. Single drivers came from Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Nevada and No. Dakota. ... Last year the 48 TNGP drivers represented 13 states, with the leading states California (27 drivers) and Indiana (seven).

The 26-page color TNGP printed program has two pages that list the top five finishers in all prior Turkey Night features. The result line for the 2014 TNGP will show: C. Bell-D. Hagen-K. Larson-Z. Daum-R. Abreu. It was the first TNGP top five finish for both Bell and Abreu. Daum is on the list once with a P. 4 in 2013. Hagen is on the list twice with a P. 2 in 2011 and P. 3 in 2008. Amazingly, it is the third top five TNGP finish for Larson in only three tries. He was P. 4 as a rookie in 2011 at Irwindale; he won at PAS in 2012 and added a P. 3 in 2014. He did not race in 2013 although he was in the pits watching his Kunz teammates.

CHASSIS BUILDERS: There were 11 different chassis in the 34 car field. Spike led with 16 cars. Bullet built four (all four Keith Kunz cars). Beast, Breka (from New Zealand), Eagle, Edmunds Autoresearch, and Triple X had two cars each. Ellis, Stealth, Stewart and TCR built one car each. ... Engine manufacturers: Eleven engine builders were represented in the 34 car field. Esslinger (So. El Monte) had 15. Fontana and Speedway Toyota each built four. Three were Chevy. Toyota TRD built two. Solo engines were: Brayton Ford, Ed Pink Ford , Ed Pink Toyota, Honda, Stanton SR 11 Mopar, and Van Dyne.

The 2014 TNGP at PAS had three female drivers competing. Californians Randi Pankratz and Shannon McQueen are veterans. Shannon, a CPA, told the crowd she will race USAC 360 cu. in. sprint cars as her primary effort in 2015. She will race her No. 7 2014 Spike/Esslinger by Duane McQueen as time permits. The third female was a TNGP rookie—Andee Beierle, from Bismarck, No. Dakota. She wore a red and white fire-suit with her first name vertically on the pants legs. She is a striking platinum blonde who has a lengthy12-year racing career in various divisions. Starting at age 16 she raced in the last three Tulsa (Okla.) Chili Bowl events and reached the I and H mains during Saturday K through A alphabet features. Andee drove the No. 11 Spike/Gaerte for Michael Koontz and then the No. 57B Dan Felker Eagle/Fontana. In the January 13-17, 2015 Chili Bowl she will drive her 2014 TNGP ride—the No. 5B Dan Daum Eagle/Esslinger. Zach Daum, from Pocahontas,IL, drove the No. 5D team car.

Andee's father was in the PAS pits helping on her crew. He said she has been racing since age 7 in quarter midgets, then on to dirt and asphalt karts in Florida to age 11. She then raced micro midgets in No. Dakota from ages 11-13, legend cars and modified stocks at No. Dakota speedways in Minot and Williston. Andee also raced 305 cu. in. sprint cars at the famous Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway clay half-mile with a best feature finish of eighth. Her family is close friends with Sammy and Kevin Swindell and they offer advice. Andee is currently attending the University of Alabama-Birmingham and majoring in chemistry with her goal pre-medicine. Her dad said she has two brothers named for famous racing drivers. Arien (for Arie Luyendyk) is 21 and Ayrton (for Ayrton Senna) is 16. Ironically, neither of her brothers is interested in motor-sports.

Kyle Larson, 22, said his first child, a son, with Kaitlyn Sweet (driver Brad Sweet's 23-year old sister) is due in late December. While seated in his No. 71K Kunz midget without his helmet (green no less), Kyle told me, “We like Owen for his name.” Future uncle Brad Sweet and his girl friend live near Kyle and Kaitlyn in Charlotte, No. Carolina, not far from Lake Norman. Brad said NASCAR drivers usually received 40% of the money earned by their cars. No wonder Kyle just moved into a new house and co-owns a 410 winged sprint car team. Kyle clearly won the NASCAR Sprint Cup 2014 Rookie of the Year title over Austin Dillon by 88 points—326 to 238. Larson was the highest finisher in 26 of the 36 Cup point races and Dillon in the other ten races.

Kyle's NASCAR car owner Chip Ganassi flew in to watch Kyle race in the TNGP for the first time. Spectators listened intently as Jay Agajanian interviewed Chip when he crossed from the pits to watch the 98-lap feature from the promoter's booth. Chip found out where Kyle learned his outstanding car control and running high at the crash-wall. Kyle charged from P. 8 to third place in the final eight laps and gave everyone a demonstration of his talent. Chip must have had is eyes opened by winner Christopher Bell, 19, called “the next Kyle Larson” by many. Kyle Busch already has won with Bell in one of his late model stock cars.

CHUCK GURNEY: Respected USAC midget, sprint car and Silver Crown car winner Chuck Gurney is now 65 with a full head of gray hair. He won the 1988-89 TNGP 100-lap features at Ascot Park in Gardena. He came down from his home in Livermore, CA (Springtown area) to visit his Indianapolis-based son in the pits. Chuck. Jr. is employed as a mechanic by the four-car Keith Kunz team, so he was kept busy at the TNGP. Chuck, Sr. pitched in and helped.

Chuck, Jr. retired as a midget driver about five years ago after winning the “Night Before the 500” midget race at Lucas Oil Speedway (IRP) in Clermont, Indiana. Chuck, Jr. raced into first place early in the 2008 TNGP at Irwindale, but soon dropped out with a mechanical problem. Chuck, Jr. and his fiancee Heather went to Mexico and married right after the 2008 TNGP. They now have two children, Ella 4 1/2, and Tate, 2. Chuck, Sr. proudly told me his granddaughter Ella sang the National Anthem this year at two Indiana speedways—Kokomo Speedway three times and at the World of Outlaws sprint car race in Bloomington. He said Ella performed great. Chuck said his daughter Ashley, of Avon, Ind., wed a year ago to Rob Wendlaw, a drag racing mechanic for Don Schumacher's two-car NHRA Funny Car team.

BELL DATA: TNGP 2014 winner Christopher Bell is a driver to watch. He seems destined for racing stardom as is his K. Kunz midget teammate Larson. Bell races 12 months a year and scheduled 110 races in 2014 and had four rain-outs. He raced in Australia and New Zealand during January and raced in 15 different states—Ariz., Ark., Calif., Fla., Iowa, Ill., Ind., Kan., Mich., Mo., N. Car., Ohio, Okla.,Texas and Wisconsin. He raced 106 times, winning 26 of 94 features (27.6%). in midgets, 360 and 410 winged and non-winged sprint cars, USAC Silver Crown cars and late model stock cars. He scored 56 top fives and 70 top tens and only had one DNF (non-finish). The clean-cut, well-spoken driver is personable and an ideal sponsor spokesman.

Indy 500 2012 veteran Bryan Clauson's No. 63 Dooling/Rusty Kunz 2014 Spike/Esslinger was pitted next to the four car Keith Kunz team of Rusty's brother. Clauson has raced as part of the Keith Kunz multi-car fleet in the past so he was in effect a fifth car for the team. The No. 63 carried sponsorship from (Mike) Curb Records and Jonathon Byrd Racing. Clauson will return to the Indianapolis 500 as a driver in May 2015 in a Dallara owned by Byrd Racing.

There were four midgets numbered 71 this TNGP and three midgets with number 67. The No. 71s Cody Swanson ride is a 2009 Spike/Van Dyne owned by Kirk Swanson. It was the No. 72 Keith Ford Berry Pack midget raced by Nic Faas in the 2012 TNGP in Perris. ... The No. 71T car raced by Ricky Shelton, of Bakersfield, was another former K. Ford Berry Pack car bought to replace the No. 71 he leased from BCRA midgets multi-champion Floyd Alvis for the 2013 TNGP. That car was demolished in a front straight flip at PAS; Shelton's 2014 midget also flipped in the feature.

PAST WINNERS: Nine of the past 49 TNGP winners (15 races) attended the 2014 event and three prior winners raced in the PAS 2014 TNGP. Winners present were: Parnelli Jones (1964 & 66), Rick Goudy ('78), Kevin Olson ('83), Chuck Gurney ('88-89), Jordan Hermansader ('94), Billy Boat ('95-96-97), Dave Darland ('07 & 13), Bryan Clauson ('09-10) and Larson ('12). The last three drivers named also raced in the 2014 TNGP.

Attendees at the 2014 TNGP included USAC veep Dick Jordan after he missed the last two TNGPs at PAS, plus his protege Richie Murray from Indy for his first TNGP. They flew to Las Vegas Tuesday and drove to Perris Thursday morning. Chip Ganassi, the NASCAR, Indy Car and sports car team owner, caught his first PAS race to watch his driver Larson compete. The three Agajanian brothers attended of course. Writer Kevin Eckert was in the pitsThursday. Steve Lewis, a multi-TNGP winning car owner, and his racing son Michael attended Thursday.

Other persons spotted Thursday were Duane Jones, a noted racing artist from Ascot Park days, and drivers LeRoy Van Conett, the many time NARC sprint car champion from Galt, Jeff Heywood, TQ midget champ West Evans, Dwight Cheney, plus midget drivers Jimmy Voitel and Jerome Rodela. Upcoming racing daughters and their fathers were present as well. Focus midget and speedway bike rider Courtney Crone, 13, and her dad Jack were in the pits. Legend car and racing truck driver Lacie Price, 20, and her dad Mike, a former late model stock car driver/winner, were present for the open-wheel classic.