LOS ANGELES – The 80th Turkey Night Grand Prix program produced by Harold Osmer and Neil Nissing was outstanding.
They started their labor of love in 2001 for the 61st Turkey Night Grand Prix at Irwindale Speedway. This year their $5 Turkey Night Grand Prix color program was 38 pages. Expecting a larger crowd on a Saturday versus on Thanksgiving, they wisely printed many more than their usual 500 programs. With the sold out grandstand crowd plus crowded pits, they sold hundreds more of the collector program.
The 2021 program cover depicted a 1934 midget, Parnelli Jones’ 1964 winning No. 98 midget, and a modern era midget with a roll cage. Entrant Kyle Larson, the 79th Turkey Night Grand Prix winner, was shown on the lower left corner holding a trophy. Inside pages gave readers the schedule of events and stories from USAC media. A story about co-grand marshals Robby Flock, a four-time USAC Western States midget champion in 1986, ’89, ’93 and ’02, and Johnny Cofer, the 1994 USAC Western midget champion was informative.
Flock won 51 Western States Midget features and six USAC National Midget mains. He also raced sprint cars and USAC Silver Crown cars before retiring. Flock raced in 12 Turkey Night Grand Prix races from 1982 to ’05 with a best finish of second to Ron Shuman in 1993 at Bakersfield. Cofer raced in five Turkey Night Grand Prix races between 1988 and ’96 with third place his best result in 1993. He had 10 career USAC victories with five at Ventura. He also won two USAC National Series midget features — at Denver and Ventura. He still holds the one-lap Ventura track record after 26 years. He retired in 1997. His daughter Maria, 22, now races his same number campaigned by her father, No. 57.
The Turkey Night Grand Prix program contained a page of three aerial photos above Ventura Raceway and the Ventura County Fairgrounds area as it appeared in 1950, ’64 and currently. The page also listed track records for four open-wheel classes. Osmer also included two pages of “TNGP History – Race 1 to 80 by the 10s.” Photos and paragraphs detailed races in ’34, ’46, ’60, ’70, ’80, ’90, ’00, ’10 and ’21.
The 2021 Turkey Night Grand Prix program also contained accurate entry rosters for midgets and sprint cars and photos of numerous cars. It included pages to write in race lineups and finishes for both midgets and sprints. The top-10 in point standings for USAC and VRA sprints and USAC National and Western midgets were included. Midget specs and the names of 22 prior Don Basile Rookies of the Race were printed. There is also a Turkey Night Grand Prix-related crossword puzzle.
Two pages of historic midget racing post-WWII photos at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum are included as are Turkey Night Grand Prix program cover photos by decades. A full page photo of a midget airborne in Ascot’s first turn is preceded by a blank page for driver autographs. The annual driver autograph session on Ventura’s concourse took place while track prep was ongoing before the feature. It was well attended again this year and fans collected autographs on Turkey Night Grand Prix programs.
Two pages listing the top five finishers in every Turkey Night Grand Prix from 1934 to the most recent race help give the Turkey Night Grand Prix its history. Pages list the year, site, laps, and top five finishers for every Turkey Night Grand Prix. Four Turkey Night Grand Prix winners also won the Indianapolis 500. The four winners of the two prestigious races are: Bill Vukovich, Johnnie Parsons, A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones.
– TRADITIONS: Tradition is important at the Turkey Night Grand Prix and new traditions have evolved in recent decades. Following are facts relating to some of the most recent traditions.
Aggie Trophy: The Aggie trophy came into being in 2003. The Indianapolis 500 Borg-Warner trophy was its inspiration. It was the idea of Doug Stokes. His vision was a perpetual trophy that would honor the names, track and year for every Turkey Night Grand Prix with a metal plaque on a three-tiered wooden base and ample space to add names of many more winners. He requested the Agajanian family to provide a Stetson hat worn by the late J.C. Agajanian and he had it bronzed to rest atop the Aggie trophy.
The Aggie Trophy first appearance was the November 2003 Turkey Night Grand Prix in Irwindale. Dave Steele was the first winner photographed with it. The trophy has been kept in the office of the TNGP host speedway. Harold Osmer just constructed an attractive wooden base on which the displayed Aggie trophy rests.
Change from a 100-lap midget feature to 98-laps: This resulted from a suggestion by Kirk Rockwell, an independent racing products vendor, in 2005 to J.C. Agajanian Jr. He said having a scheduled 98-lap race would honor the late race car owner, race organizer and businessman. J.C. Agajanian Jr. liked the idea and discussed the suggestion with his family and USAC. It became a reality in 2007 at Irwindale Speedway. Dave Darland won the initial Turkey Night Grand Prix 98. It has been 98 laps ever since.
Kiss the Hat: The annual post-race tradition of the Turkey Night Grand Prix winning driver kissing a bronzed Stetson hat worn by J. C. Agajanian started in 2012 at Perris, the TNGP site. Photographer Albert Wong shouted kiss the hat to winner Kyle Larson and he obliged. Darland, Christopher Bell, Tanner Thorson and Logan Seavey have all kept the tradition alive. It is the Turkey Night Grand Prix salute to winners kissing the bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway start/finish line after NASCAR and IndyCar victories at IMS.
Anew tradition began this year in Ventura. Both winning driver Seavey and car owner Tom Malloy kissed the brim of the Stetson hat simultaneously. Then Malloy took a solitary walk around the fifth-mile dirt track following victory ceremonies to relive the greatest victory by his midget team.