Kyle Larson wins 4th Turkey Night Grand Prix victory

Kyle Larson kisses the Aggie Hat trophy, with J.D. Agajanian Jr at his side - Rich Forman/USAC photo
The 82nd Turkey Night Grand Prix saw a familiar fact in Victory Lane

The 82nd running of ARP Turkey Night Grand Prix presented by the West Coast Stock Car/Motorsports Hall of Fame took place on California’s Ventura Raceway dirt track Saturday night, November 25. This is the longest running midget race, a tradition dating back to 1934.

A total of 53 USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship racers and their cars placed entries for this esteemed race, including at least the four past Turkey Night Grand Prix winners: 2022 victor Justin Grant, Logan Seavey (2021) and Tanner Thorson, who won the race in 2015. Those early entries were joined by Kyle Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion who just can’t stay away from different types of racing – especially midgets on a dirt track.

Larson became only the second driver in this race’s 82-year history to earn four victories in this acclaimed competition; Ron Shuman is the all-time victor at the Turkey Night Grand Prix with eight wins between 1979 and 1993. In addition to this year’s victory, the Elk Grove, CA native earned the right to kiss the Aggie Hat trophy in 2012, 2016 and 2019; he’s never finished outside the top four in any of his 11 career starts in this race, dating back to his 2011 debut.

The Turkey Night Grand Prix is a two-day affair, with Friday night practice before qualifying and heat races take place, capping with the feature, 98-lap event. For both nights, USAC West Coast 360 sprint cars joined the midgets, also with a field of 50-plus entrants. On Friday night, Emerson Axsom was quickest of the 53 National Midget entries, turning a lap of 12.082 seconds, with Larson and Taylor Reimer of Bixby, OK setting equal times of 12.119 on the 1/5-mile clay Ventura Raceway oval.

Larson started from 10th place in Saturday night’s 98-lap feature, a lap number designated for the Agajanian family’s preferred race number, used by the family for all of its INDYCAR entries. By the 27th lap Larson was in the lead, where he remained through 72 remaining laps to the checkered flags. “I’m happy to get another Turkey Night win,” Larson stated. “We’re second on the all-time win list now, which is cool. Hopefully we can catch up someday and maybe be leading this thing. This is such a historic race, with it begin the 82nd running, which is incredible. It’s been a good event for us, and we’ve always run really well here,” he said stating the obvious.

Kyle Larson kisses the Aggie Hat trophy, with J.D. Agajanian Jr at his side – Rich Forman/USAC photo

Larson collected the $10,000 winner’s purse and also earned a quarter-scale replica of the J.C. Agajanian-owned car that Parnelli Jones drove in his single, 1963 victory at the 1963 Indianapolis 500. The trophy was handmade by Ventura Raceway promoter Jim Naylor and it’s among the rewards that brings this driver back each year.

“All the Turkey Night trophies I have from Ventura Raceway are probably some of the coolest trophies I have in my collection. They get better and better every year and it’s probably the main reason why I come and do this year,” Larson acknowledged, “just to come and win these awesome trophies. I need to get a little better at qualifying because I want to win some of those [trophies] too!”

Larson’s emphatic 27th career USAC National Midget victory moved him past USAC Hall of Famers Tony Stewart and Gary Bettenhausen, for sole possession of 15th on the series’ all-time win list. Having to start the race from outside the fifth row in the 26-car field, Larson minded his time as newly crowned 2023 USAC National Midget champ and 2021 Turkey Night winner Logan Seavey established an early lead from outside the front row. Pole man Ryan Timms gave chase after earlier winning the 30-lap USAC West Coast Sprint Car feature.

On only the second lap, the field went yellow as Taylor Reimer spun, collecting Michael Faccinto while two other drivers, Mitchel Moles and Brody Futon launched after simultaneous somersaults, ending with both cars and drivers upside down.

When the race resumed, Seavey padded his lead while Larson made his way through the pack into the top five, going from eighth to fifth in two laps. On the 22nd lap he slid by defending race winner Justin Grant in the first turn to gain fourth spot. A second, short caution period involving leader Seavey and Timms allowed Larson to make his move on the lap 27 green flag, delivering a third turn slider that put him up front for the balance of the night.

Track conditions dictated the rest of the race and Kyle Larson’s victory. “You just had to make good decisions,” he explained. “We were all kind of searching for the right lane at the right time. I put together some good laps around the bottom and got clear to the top. The top of [turns] one and two was getting really wide around there and I figured Logan was running up there, so he was probably going to commit to that. I felt like if I could just poke the bottom, I could get a run and get by. It all worked out really well.”

Racing for much of the balance of the contest with race rookie – and newly crowned NARC Sprint Car champion – Corey Day, Larson knew that “the rubber was going to be coming. I was just trying to hold the lead and peek to the let. I saw Corey inching toward me on the bottom a couple of laps later. That’s when I knew it was time to get down.”

Track conditions meant attrition and lost competitors, particularly in the last quarter of the competition. In the final 12-lap sprint to the checkered flags, Larson never turned a wheel wrong as he railed the bottom right up against the infield berm. Day was hanging right in there but was only able to close to within one to two car lengths down the stretch to the 98th and final lap, allowing Larson to earn a two car-length, 0.224-second margin of victory. Carson Macedo was third, while Bryant Wiedeman took fourth and jacob Denney came from 17th to earn fifth, his best Turkey Night result.

FEATURE: (98 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kyle Larson (10), 2. Corey Day (12), 3. Carson Macedo (11), 4. Bryant Wiedeman (4), 5. Jacob Denney (17), 6. Emerson Axsom (23), 7. Buddy Kofoid (16), 8. Logan Seavey (2), 9. Jesse Love (21), 10. Cade Lewis (26), 11. Hayden Reinbold (24), 12. Jake Andreotti (25), 13. Gavin Miller (19), 14. Daison Pursley (9), 15. Mariah Ede (7), 16. Kale Drake (3), 17. Chase McDermand (6), 18. Jade Avedisian (22), 19. Spencer Bayston (8), 20. Justin Grant (5), 21. Cannon McIntosh (15), 22. Michael Faccinto (13), 23. Ryan Timms (1), 24. Taylor Reimer (14), 25. Mitchel Moles (18), 26. Brody Fuson (20). NT

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-25 Logan Seavey, Lap 26 Ryan Timms, Laps 27-98 Kyle Larson.

 

About Anne Proffit 1224 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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