By RICHIE MURRAY
VENTURA, CA – One of the deepest “Turkey Night Grand Prix” fields in years brings with it one of the most talented rookie classes for the race as well.
At press time, 23 of the 52 entries will be contenders for Don Basile “Rookie of the Race” honors for the 77th annual race on Thursday night, Nov. 23, including three drivers currently in the top-ten of the USAC National Midget point standings: Tyler Courtney (5th), Justin Grant (6th) and Tanner Carrick (9th). While Carrick is a true midget racing rookie and is the leader in the series’ rookie standings, Courtney and Grant are veterans who just happen to be making their “Turkey Night” debut.
The Clauson/Marshall team brings along three race rookies in Ione, California’s Grant, Indianapolis, Indiana’s Courtney and Angola, Indiana’s Zeb Wise, who made his USAC debut last Saturday night at Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway, just days after celebrating his 15thbirthday. Grant and Courtney have teamed up for five total USAC National Midget victories this season with Grant, the 2007 BCRA Midget champ, taking the checkered in the season opener at the Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin and a spectacular last lap, final corner pass to win at Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Speedway in August. Meanwhile, Courtney, who got his start in USAC National racing in the seat of a midget, is one of five drivers to pick off three wins this season, which he did at Montpelier, Ind., Bloomington, Ind. and the Illinois State Fairgrounds Multi-Purpose Arena in Springfield.
The top-rookie for USAC’s National Midget division in 2017 is Lincoln, California’s Carrick, one of seven pieces of the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian powerhouse that has won the past three “Turkey Night” races in a row. Carrick leads all Rookies in top-tens (9), heat race wins (5) and feature starts (21) and is the lone Rookie to record a ProSource Fast Qualifying time this season in June at Lawrenceburg Speedway during “Indiana Midget Week.”
Mitchell, Indiana’s Chase Briscoe already has a Rookie of the Year award under his belt in 2016 from a vastly different racing discipline – the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Fresh off his win in the trucks at the season finale in Homestead, Florida last Friday night, the sprint car racing veteran makes a return to his racing roots in a bid for his first career USAC National Midget feature start in a points-paying race. Additionally, he will be competing in the USAC West Coast/VRA Sprint Car portion of the program with hopes of capturing Automotive Racing Products’ $50,000 bonus paid out to the driver who can win both the midget and sprint car feature on Thursday night.
The National Midget division’s second-leading Rookie, Brayton Lynch of Springfield, Illinois, has his grandfather and, famed crew chief, Rusty Kunz turning the wrenches on his first foray to Ventura. Also making the long tow to the beach are Tyler Nelson (Kansas City, Kansas), Daniel Robinson (Wayne City, Illinois), Mark Chisholm (Cheyenne, Wyoming), Tyler Edwards (Salina, Oklahoma), Rocky Mountain’s Carson Garrett (Littleton, Colorado) and Mack DeMan (Mississauga, Ontario), one of two drivers arriving from outside of the United States.
Sutter, California’s Logan Seavey has already made his mark on the midget racing scene in his first season, capturing not only POWRi’s Rookie of the Year award, but also the season championship with two victories while Mason Daniel of Visalia, Calif. is the USAC Light Up the World Beverages top Rookie in 2017.
Additional “Turkey Night” Rookies from the west include Delano, California’s Terry Nichols (14th in Western States points), Upland, California’s Clayton Ruston (18th), Santa Monica, California’s Kyle Beilman (24th), Lomita, California’s Bryan Drollinger (26th), 2016 “Turkey Night” Sprint Car winner Geoff Ensign of Sebastopol, California (28th), Fremont, California’s Dustin Golobic (36th) as well as Tony Everhart (El Cajon, California), Jake Vermeer (El Cajon, California) and Waddell, Arizona’s Shon Deskins.
“Turkey Night” from the seaside oval begins Wednesday, Nov. 22 with a full program featuring the USAC West Coast and VRA Sprint Cars, plus an open practice for midgets. The following night, Thanksgiving Thursday, Nov. 23, will once again include the sprint cars as well as the prestigious, 98-lap midget race.
This Rookie class will have a tough hill to climb with a star-studded field prepared to do battle on the one-fifth mile dirt oval in Ventura. Past “Turkey Night” winners Dave Darland (2007 & 2013), Kyle Larson (2012 & 2016), Christopher Bell (2014) and Tanner Thorson (2015) are entered, plus 2017 USAC National Midget winners Brady Bacon, Michael Pickens, series point leader Spencer Bayston and Chad Boat as well diverse racing standout Brad Sweet.
“Turkey Night” begins Wednesday, Nov. 22 with a full program featuring the USAC West Coast and VRA Sprint Cars, plus an open practice for midgets. The following night, Thanksgiving Thursday, Nov. 23, will once again include the sprint cars as well as the prestigious, 98-lap midget race.