The 79th annual Turkey Night Grand Prix, held this year at Ventura Raceway north of Los Angeles, took three (rather than the expected two) days to complete. An early rain squall barreling down the coastline caused race night to be postponed from Thanksgiving evening to Friday. Wednesday practice went on as usual.
The only driver on the entry list who had won previous Turkey Night races ended up in Victory Lane, as NASCAR star and Elk Grove, Calif. native Kyle Larson earned the win for the third time (2012; 2016) on a chilly and occasionally wet Friday night. Racing on the 1/5-mile dirt bullring located not far from the Pacific Ocean, Larson battled through his heat race to make the 30-car, 98-lap feature race organized by Agajanian Promotions.
Larson, thought to be a shoo-in for pole position, spun on his second lap and had to carve his way into the Turkey Night field. He qualified only 13th for the 30-driver feature by virtue of his heat-race win – only the top 10 qualifiers were locked into the season finale – and led only the final 10 laps of the weather-delayed feature race.
Larson’s prime competitor was a first-time Turkey Night Grand Prix entrant, teenager Cannon McIntosh, who led a race-high 67 laps until Larson went full-bore to the top side of McIntosh in the third turn, following a restart with 11 laps to go.
“I’ve always run well at the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Larson admitted after taking the checkered flags. “To get another one feels great. I had to work hard for that one, everybody did, just to get to the checkered flags. It was extremely rough, but fun too, because it was challenging. The ruts,” caused by the weather, “changed all throughout the race.”
The key to surviving those tough 98 laps on a changing racetrack, for all 30 feature competitors, was to adapt to the changing conditions. Pole winner Kevin Thomas led the first 20 laps until McIntosh took over after a lap 21 restart, using the top side of the second turn to drive past both Spencer Bayston for second and Thomas for the lead.
“Cannon, I feel, definitely had the best car. He was really fast,” Larson said. “I noticed, during the caution right before I got by him, his right rear radius rod had broken. I knew that would affect his balance some, so I was able to get around one and two good, and then get around him in three and four.”
Not only was this victory Larson’s third in the prestigious annual Turkey Night Grand Prix, he had two wins prior to this one to become the first driver in 24 years to win three consecutive USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget races in the state of California. Billy Boat won the final three races of a USAC season in 1995, also in California.