Kyle Larson laid down the third fastest lap during Turkey Night practice. (Tom Macht Photo)

KENNEDY: The 82nd Turkey Night Grand Prix

LOS ANGELES — The 82nd running of USAC’s Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway was run amid sunny weather on Nov. 25.

Practice night was Friday for both midgets and 360 sprint cars. Sprints ran heats and qualifying races for position and passing points to set the first five rows of Saturday’s combined USAC/VRA 360 sprints 30-lap main. 

Midgets were divided into six groups of eight cars for hot laps and had four 10-lap sessions Friday. Grandstand attendance Friday was about 50 percent and a chilly wind followed sunset. The two series had 53 pre-entered midgets and 53 sprint cars.

Some entrants in each division were not present, so actual car counts were 48 midgets and 48 sprints. 

One of the late midget entrants was Kyle Larson, 31, a racing superstar in numerous types of cars, who entered his own No. 1k Eagle without a backup car. He won both USAC National Midget features at Placerville a week earlier, where at age 13 he began his meteoric rise in racing.

Larson did not race in the two races at Merced Speedway Nov. 21-22 to enjoy Thanksgiving with his family. His parents were in the Ventura pits.

Midgets practiced Saturday and qualified 48 cars from 4:09 to 4:42 pm. Larson was the 27th driver to qualify and his time (12.313) held up for 10th quickest, which locked him into outside row five for the 98-lap feature. He did not have to finish in the top four in one of three 12-lap qualifying heats, or 15-lap semi-main.

This year a 26-car field raced in the feature with no provisional starters.

Oklahoma driver Ryan Timms, 17, was 12th to qualify and set fast time of 12.059. He also was the high-point driver in the sprints and led all 30 laps from the pole and received a handmade Jim Naylor trophy. 

Following the 30-lap sprint car race, the track was watered by the water truck to cut down on dust. Naylor, the track promoter, mounted his grader and dug up the track all around and groomed it for the midget feature. The track prep work lasted about 45 minutes and paid off. There was close racing and passing throughout the 98-lap race.

The TNGP feature had three leaders. Logan Seavey started second and led 25 laps.

Timms, from the pole, pressed Seavey and led lap 26. Larson charged from 10th to seventh by lap 17. He was fifth on lap 19, fourth at lap 23, third a lap later, and first on lap 27 after his third turn inside-pass of Seavey.

Larson could not run away from his pursuers and the race by lap 40 had four drivers (Larson, Seavey, Dyson Racing teammates Spencer Bayston and Carson Macedo) in close formation. The race, which started at 9:04 and concluded at 9:56, had nine yellow flags.

Rising sprint car star Corey Day, 17, started 12th and was second by lap 30. He turned 18 on Nov. 28. He pressed Larson all the way to the checkered flag and earned the Don Basile Rookie of the Race Award. Sixteen of 26 starters finished and all were on the lead lap.

Following the checkered flag, third-place finisher Macedo took a hot lap into the north turn, jumped the cushion, hit the wall and flipped. He walked to the infield ceremonies and congratulated Larson.

Day parked his No. 4 Willie Kahne midget near Larson’s No. 1K; Seavey parked the Abacus No. 57 nearby prior to receiving the 2023 USAC National Midget championship award after Larson and Day received their recognition. Seavey sprayed champagne on the crowd.

Larson posed for photos for the 30 to 40 photographers on the hastily assembled stage that contained the perpetual Aggie Trophy topped by a bronzed Aggie-worn Stetson. The Aggie trophy has plaques listing all prior TNGP winners year by year.

The midget winner trophy this year was a beautiful hand-made quarter-scale replica of the No. 98 Agajanian roadster in which Parnelli Jones won the 1963 Indianapolis 500. It took Ventura promoter Jim Naylor months to construct the coveted trophy that Larson clearly prized.

In fact, Larson said Naylor’s beautiful handmade TNGP trophies are a key reason he keeps returning to race in the Ventura TNGP.

After final photos, Larson was walking to his ride back to the pits.

I told him his four TNGP victories rank second only to Ron Shuman, the eight-time winner. I asked Kyle if he plans to surpass Shuman’s eight TNGP triumphs. He replied with a sly smile, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”