RACING SCENE – (TNGP Pit Notes-Part II) – By Tim Kennedy
LOS ANGELES – USAC-sanctioned time trials for 50 midgets on Thanksgiving ran from 4:35 to 5:14 pm. Fastest qualifier Kyle Larson was the 17th driver to qualify. He turned laps of 12.129 and then the quickest time of the day at 11.888 on the semi-banked, fifth-mile clay oval across a road from the Pacific Ocean. First-time Ventura competitors from other states marveled at the picturesque setting for a race track. Some arrivals from eastern states even spent time on the beach watching wet-suit clad surfers ride the waves.
Anaheim's Jake Swanson, the fifth driver to qualify, ran a best lap of 11.909. Christopher Bell, the 40th qualifier, was the third and final driver to qualify under 12 seconds. He ran a first lap of 12.067 and then his best--11.933. The 12-fastest qualifiers advanced directly to the 98-lap feature. Individual qualifying laps set up a most interesting series of races to fill the main event lineup.
FORMAT: Midgets raced Thursday in a pair of 12-lap qualifying races at 6:12 and 6:24 pm. The first four finishers in each qualifying race joined the 12 fastest in time trials, bringing the feature field to 20. Drivers in P. 5-12 in the two qualifying races moved to the 15-lap last chance qualifier (LCQ) race from which the first six finishers transferred to the now 26-car feature field.
Provisional starting berths in the main event could be used by a maximum of two USAC national points and two western points drivers who had not used their maximum of four provisionals allowed during the season. Three 2017 TNGP drivers used provisionals and increased the field to 29. Last year the Ventura feature had 30-cars.
Kevin Thomas, Jr. (13th FQ) and Chad Boat (14th FQ) started from pole position in12-lap qualifying races. Both led all the way and avoided the dreaded LCQ. Thomas and Boat earned main event row seven starting positions. Amazingly, all 18 starters in both qualifying races were racing at the finish and all drivers were on the lead lap. The battle for P. 4 in each race was intense. Cory Elliott took fourth from five-time USAC Western Midget champion Ronnie Gardner near the conclusion and kept the final transfer spot.
Sixteen midgets started the 15-lap LCQ at 7:29 pm with the first six finishers advancing to the feature in starting positions 21-26. KKM driver Holly Shelton led every lap from the pole. P. 2 starter R. Gardner held off USAC National Sprint Series star/seventh starter Tyler Courtney. Chase Briscoe, the November 17 NASCAR Homestead, Florida race winner (No. 29 Brad Keslowskis Ford) started and finished fourth in his own midget. It was his first visit to Ventura and initial TNGP.
Ryan Robinson (from tenth) and Tyler Edwards (from 12th) won the final two tickets to the back row of the feature. P. 7-12 were done for the 2017 TNGP and watched the racing. Three drivers used provisionals to start in P. 27-29. a National prov went to KKM driver Tanner Carrick, from Nor Cal, and two USAC western provs went to Frankie Guerrini and David Prickett.
360 SPRINTS: The first eight finishers in Wednesday's 20-lap main went directly to the first four rows of Thursday's 30-lap feature that preceded the 98-lap main. The eight drivers got to hot lap and then stopped at the finish line to draw for their main event starting spots in the order they finished the Wednesday feature. Wednesday 20-lap race winner Brady Bacon drew pole position for Thursday.
The 360 sprint car portion of the action-packed format ran three 12-lap B-mains from 6:36 to 7:10 pm. The first four finishers in each “B” advanced to Thursday's sprint feature, bringing the field to 16. Carson Macedo, Chase Johnson and Brody Roa won the B-mains.
So TNGP Thursday spectators witnessed 203 total laps of compelling racing. MIDGETS—12, 12, 15 and 98 = 137 laps; SPRINTS—12, 12, 12, 30 = 66 laps. The total of 203 laps was a bargain considering the intense competition and top caliber of national and regional open-wheel drivers competing. The traditional four-abreast midget main event salute to fans had seven rows (+ one car) perfectly aligned and was commendable precision driving by all drivers.
The TNGP midget feature counted laps for the first 75 laps. Thereafter, only green flag laps counted in the 98-lap feature that had abundant passing and wheel-to-wheel racing. The yellow flag waved six times and consumed about 35 laps. from laps 4-9, 26-32, 37-51, 56-60, 63-67 and 69-71. The caution flag flew three times after lap 75, but those yellow flag laps did not counted.
DOUBLE-DIPPERS: Eight drivers had rides in both midget and 360 sprint car Thursday night features. They were the only eligible drivers vying for the $50,000 ARP Challenge posted by Automotive Racing Products, Inc., of Ventura and Santa Paula. The driver who won Thursday's 30-lap sprint main was the only driver eligible to win the generous first-time TNGP bonus.
Thursday's eight double main event drivers were:
> Sprint 30 winner Tyler Courtney, in the Steve Watt No. 81M, became the only driver eligible to win the ARP $50,000. He encountered a problem and finished 22nd in the midget feature. Maybe next year. ARP execs were present and were pleased by the exposure and should offer it again in 2018.
The other seven drivers were: in order of sprint main finish (with midget finish in parenthesis):
> P. 2 - No. 63 Brady Bacon – Midget No. 76M - 12th.
> P. 3 – No. 5 Chase Briscoe – Midget No. 5 – 21st.
> P. 6 – No. 73 Carson Macedo – Midget No. 73x – 6th.
> P. 8 – No. 92 Jake Swanson – Midget No. 73 – 19th.
> P. 9 – No. 81 Michael Pickens – Midget No. 25x - 29th.
> P 14 –No. 11E Cory Elliott – Midget No. 11E - 27th.
> P. 17 – No. 83T Tanner Carrick – Midget No. 71K - 11th.
Three of the eight $50K bonus eligible drivers—Courtney, Briscoe and Carrick—were TNGP first-time drivers. For the second year in a row, “racer” Macedo, 21, had the best overall finish in the two TNGP main events. Last year he placed third in a midget and fourth in the sprint main for a combined total of 7. This year his two sixth place finishes total 12. To win the $50 bonus a driver has to have a TNGP P 1 and another P. 1 = a 2 total overall. Macedo, from Lemoore, has the knack to run up front in both races and stay out of trouble.
LARSON TNGP RECORD: Impressive Kyle Larson, 25, has raced in six of the last seven TNGP events for Keith Kunz.Motor-sports and has an outstanding record. He has never finished the 98-lap feature lower than fourth in 2011 when he won the TNGP Don Basile Rookie of the Race honor at Irwindale. He won at Perris in 2012 and did not race in the 2013 TNGP. His 2014-17 results in order were: P. 3-2-1 and most recently 2. So this year Larson improved his TNGP feature finish average from 2.2 to an astounding 2.1 in his six TNGP races.
Former CRA sprint car, USAC three-divisions driver, and 1989 NASCAR Cup Mike Curb driver Brad Noffsinger, now heads the No. 76M Beast/Toyota midget operation. He is crew chief/mechanic for owner Frank Mannafort, of Vermont. It is headquartered at Brad's spacious North Carolina racing school operation. Brad towed to USAC National point races at Bakersfield Speedway (Sat. Nov. 18) and at Ventura on November 22-23.
Brad's FMR team driver Brady Bacon, from Broken, Arrow, Okla., won the Bakersfield 30-lap feature with 30-cars present. Brad towed directly from Bakersfield via the 99, I-5, 126 and 101 freeways. He parked in the Ventura pits that were open days early for arriving TNGP teams. He parked as close as possible to the beach and his crew watched surfers from the beach after prepping their midget. Brad stayed in his motor/coach/race car hauler in Ventura's pits. Other teams did likewise.
KKM and other teams stayed down the street near the beach at the 11-story, ex-Holiday Inn, now known as the Crown Royal Hotel. It was USAC race headquarters. Larson and his family, plus C. Bell and his girl friend Morgan flew from their successful NASCAR Homestead, Florida races Nov. 17-19 and stayed there as well. Larson finished third in the Cup race Sunday.
Many people thought Larson was the fastest driver late in the race and could have won his fifth Cup race of the year. He wanted to let P. 1-2 drivers Martin Truex and Kyle Busch race for the 2017 championship. Larson avoided interfering in that duel that Truex won. Bell's second place aboard Busch's No. 4 Toyota Tundra in Friday's NCWT race gave him his first NASCAR truck championship.
AGAJANIANS: Cary Agajanian flew from Ohio to So Cal and attended the 2017 TNGP as usual. J. C. Agajanin's two oldest sons, Cary and Jay, have been vital in continuing the Turkey Night midget race after their father passed away in 1984. They kept growing the TNGP until Ascot ceased operating following the Thanksgiving 1990 event. They moved the TNGP to five speedways in So Cal. In order the tracks were located in Saugus, Bakersfield, Perris, Ventura, Bakersfield again, Irwindale for 13 years, Perris again for four years, and Ventura again for the last two years.
Cary is an active lawyer and business agent/manager for numerous well-known drivers. He leaves much of the TNGP administrative and publicity work to younger brother Jay, who has been the face of the Turkey Night Midget Classic for many decades. His work with Agajanian Promotions involves working with sanctioning body USAC, arranging race sites, promoting or co-promoting the race with speedway promoters,continuing race traditions and developing new TNGP traditions. Youngest brother Chris handles Turkey Night and Ascot souvenir and apparel sales all year.
Agajanian sons got involved in TNGP operations early in their lives when J. C. “Aggie” revived the TNGP in 1955 after the event was dormant four years. Their dad wanted his sons to learn the business of auto racing and event promotion by doing every job. Their early duties included: parking cars, selling race programs, taking tickets, working in the box office, doing on-track interviews, welcoming fans on the track PA mic, and making speaking engagements before media and local clubs.
Of course, Jay did the radio/TV commercial buys and was the voice of Ascot and Turkey Night. Who can forget his famous commercial sign-off, “Ascot, where the Harbor, San Diego and 91 Freeways collide.” (or “explode” for the July 4 race). Their continuing love for auto racing and devotion to the TNGP, the granddaddy of midget racing classic races, is appreciated by competitors and fans alike.
PRINTED PROGRAM: The Program Guys—Harold Osmer & Neil Nissing—again printed 500 of their collectors' item $5.00 TNGP color race program. This 34-page edition had all the requirements new or veteran attendees want. It had accurate and informative midget and sprint car entry rosters, color photos, top ten drivers in national and regional point standings, race preview story by USAC PR man Richie Murray, TNGP top five main event finishers in all prior 76 events from 1934-2016, TNGP Grand Marshal Rick Goudy story, two-pages on the Don Basile Rookie of the Race and prior winners, plus a page for driver autographs. Their website is www.hopublishing.com.
Present at the 2017 TNGP were past TNGP winners Jay Drake, (1998), Billy Boat (95-97), Chuck Gurney (1988-89), grand marshal Rick Goudy (1978), and Jordan Hermansader (1994). Other drivers spotted were: Mike Sweeney, Jerry Hudson, Richard Yanker, Levi Jones, Wally Pankratz, Johnny Cofer, Bob East, and sprint car entrant Cory Kruseman. Midget driver Jimmy Voitel and his new girl friend attended Thursday, as did midget/410 sprint car owner/driver Terry Caves and his wife. Terry, a former new car dealer, said he has relocated from the San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento. PAS track announcers Scott Daloisio and Chris Holt attended,, as did former NARC sprint series official Steve Wurzer for the first time in years.
Missing Drivers from 2016 TNGP: Austin Brown, an Illinois based owner/driver owns the Boss midget and sprint car constructing firm near Belleville, Ill. He drove his own No. 7B Boss/Toyota as a TNGP rookie in the 2016 Ventura TNGP. He said he did not have an engine ready. So he came to Ventura to help his Boss midget customers from the POWRi series. He has built more than 100 Boss midgets and sprints.
Other missing midget drivers were; Ryan Bernal, Dylan Ito, Kaitlynn Lear, recuperating Rico Abreu, Damion Gardner (Terry Klatt Beast was not entered), plus Indianan Gage Walker (No. 7) and Iowan Ryan Gerth (No. 4). TNGP 2016 rookie Buddy Kofoid, then 15, was absent as was his 360 sprint car ride. The now 16-year old announced recently his ambitious 70 to 80 race 2018 schedule in California and the Midwest with the No. 5 Harley Van Dyke sprint car team.
Robert Dolacki, from Bakersfield, was not present. Ex-driver Robert Dolacki's son in 2016 drove the No. 18 midget owned by his uncle Mark Dolacki, from La Puente. Mark had his Stealth/Esslinger (without engine) on a trailer in the Ventura pits with a “For sale--$6,000” sign oi it. ...
Cody Swanson, from Covina, had his own No. 71s midget at the 2016 TNGP but blew the engine on practice night. It was not entered this year. First cousin Jake Swanson had midget and sprint car rides so he brought out his Swanson No. 17 Spike/Esslinger for Cody to race Turkey Night. Cody ran third early and looped in the LCQ. Then he did a lazy rollover on lap 8 in turn three, ending his bid for a spot in the feature.