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VENTURA USAC MIDGETS THANKSGIVING GP - (Part III)

VENTURA USAC MIDGETS THANKSGIVING GP - (Part III)
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(photo credit: Irwindale Speedway)
 
LOS ANGELES – The 80th Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix program produced by Harold Osmer and Neil Nissing was outstanding. They started their labor of love in 2001 for the 61st TNGP at Irwindale. This year their $5.00 TNGP color program was 38-pages. Expecting a larger crowd on a Saturday than on Thanksgiving, they wisely printed many more than their usual 500 programs. With the sold out grandstand plus crowded pits they sold hundreds more of the collector program.
 
The 2021 program cover depicted a 1934 midget, Parnelli Jones' 1964 winning No. 98 midget, and a modern era midget with a roll cage. Entrant Kyle Larson, the 79th TNGP winner, was shown on the lower left corner holding a trophy. Inside pages gave readers the schedule of events and stories from USAC media. A story about co-grand marshals Robby Flock, a four-time USAC Western States midget champion in 1986, 89, 93 and 2002, and Johnny Cofer, the 1994 USAC Western midget champion was informative.
 
Flock won 51 Western States Midget features and six USAC National Midget mains. He also raced sprint cars and USAC Silver Crown cars before retiring. Flock raced in 12 TNGP races from 1982 to 2005 with a best finish of second to Ron Shuman in 1993 at Bakersfield. Cofer raced in five TNGP races between 1988 and 1996 with third place his best result in 1993. He had ten career USAC victories with five at Ventura. He also won two USAC National Series midget features—at Denver and Ventura. He still holds the one-lap Ventura track record after 26 years. He retired in 1997; his daughter Maria, 22, now races his same midget number 57.
 
The TNGP program contained a page of three aerial photos above Ventura Raceway and the Ventura County Fairgrounds area as it appeared in 1950, 1964 and currently. The page also listed track records for four open-wheel classes. Osmer also included two pages of “TNGP History-- Race 1 to 80 by the 10s.” Photos and paragraphs detailed races in 1934, 1946, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2021.
 
The 2021 TNGP program also contained accurate entry rosters for midgets and sprint cars and photos of numerous cars. It included pages to write in race lineups and finishes for both midgets and sprints. Top ten in point standings for USAC and VRA sprints and USAC National and Western midgets were included. Midget specs and the names of 22 prior Don Basile Rookie of the Race were printed. There is a TNGP-related crossword puzzle.
Two pages of historic midget racing post-WWII photos at the LA Memorial Coliseum are included as are TNGP program cover photos by decades. A full page photo of a midget airborne in Ascot's first turn is preceded by a blank page for driver autographs. The annual driver autograph session on Ventura's concourse took place while track prep was ongoing before the feature. It was well attended again this year and fans collected autographs on TNGP programs.
 
Two pages listing the top five finishers in every TNGP from 1934 to the most recent race help give the TNGP its history. Pages list the year, site, laps, and top five finishers for every TNGP. Four TNGP winners also won the Indianapolis 500. The four winners of the two prestigious races are: Bill Vukovich, Johnnie Parsons, A. J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones. Other Indy 500 winners who appear in the TNGP P 1-5 finishers pages are: Sam Hanks - P.2 in 1938; Rodger Ward – P2 in 1958; Mario Andretti – P4 in 1967, and Johnny Rutherford – P5 in 1977. So eight Indy 500 winners have been top five finishers in a TNGP.
 
Additionally, three NASCAR Cup champions have been among the top five finishers in a TNGP. They are: Jeff Gordon – P5 in 1989; Tony Stewart – P1 in 2000, and Kyle Larson – P1 in 2012, 2018-19. He also has five other finishes in the top five with his P4 in 2021. Interestingly, four of the top five in the 2021 TNGP will be listed among the TNGP top top finishers for the first time in the 2022 program. They are: P1 Logan Seavey, P2 Buddy Kofoid, P3 Mitchel Moles, and P5 Kaylee Bryson--the initial female top five TNGP driver.
 
TRADITIONS: Tradition is important at the TNGP and new traditions have evolved in recent decades. Following are facts relating to some of the most recent traditions.
 
    Aggie Trophy: The Aggie trophy came into being in 2003. The Indianapolis 500 Borg-Warner trophy was its inspiration. It was the idea of Doug Stokes, Irwindale Speedway Communications VP. His vision was a perpetual trophy that would honor the names, track and year for every TNGP with a metal plaque on a three-tiered wooden base and ample space to add names of many more winners. He requested the Agajanian family to provide a Stetson hat worn by the late J. C Agajanian and he had it bronzed to rest atop the Aggie trophy.
 
The Aggie Trophy first appearance was the November 2003 TNGP in Irwindale. Dave Steele was the first winner photographed with it. The trophy has been kept in the office of the TNGP host speedway. Harold Osmer just constructed an attractive wooden base on which the displayed Aggie trophy rests. (See Osmer photo).
 
    Change from a 100-lap midget feature to 98-laps: This resulted from a suggestion by Kirk Rockwell, an independent racing products vendor, in 2005 to J. C. Agajanian, Jr.. He said having a scheduled 98-lap race would honor the late race car owner, race organizer and businessman. J. C., Jr. liked the idea and discussed the suggestion with his family and USAC. It became a reality in 2007 at Irwindale Speedway. Dave Darland won the initial TNGP 98. It has been 98 laps ever since at IS, Perris and Ventura.
 
    “Kiss the Hat”: The annual post-race tradition of the TNGP winning driver kissing a bronzed Stetson hat worn by J. C. Agajanian started in 2012 at Perris, the TNGP site. Photographer Albert Wong shouted “kiss the hat” to winner Kyle Larson and he obliged. Darland, Christopher Bell, Tanner Thorson and Logan Seavey have all kept the tradition alive. It is the TNGP salute to winners kissing the bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway start/finish line after NASCAR and IndyCar victories at IMS.
 
    A new tradition began this year in Ventura. Both winning driver Seavey and car owner Tom Malloy kissed the brim of the Stetson hat simultaneously, so a new tradition has begun. Then Malloy took a solitary walk around the fifth-mile dirt track following victory ceremonies to relive the greatest victory by his midget team.