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Two of California's open-wheel stars Tanner Thorson (19) and Justin Grant (2J) battle Tuesday at their native Merced Speedway. (Tom Macht Photo)

KENNEDY: Turkey Night Facts & Figures

LOS ANGELES — As we head into Saturday’s 80th running of the Turkey Night Grand Prix, we gathered some interesting facts that serve as an appetizer for the most historic and tradition-laden midget auto race in existence.

The event that is sanctioned by the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship runs on Saturday night at Ventura Raceway and includes 360 sprint cars on the program.

USAC posted the pre-entry roster on Nov. 17 for the upcoming Thanksgiving Midget GP (known for many decades as the Turkey Night GP). The headline read: “Stacked, star-studded, stellar.” That’s an understatement. There are 51 pre-entered midgets. Headliners include: the last two NASCAR Cup Series champions — Kyle Larson (2021) and his Rick Hendrick Chevrolet teammate Chase Elliott (2020). The pair will be teammates in two Kyle Larson-owned midgets — No. 1k for Larson and No. 9e for Elliott. 

The USAC National Midget championship is a tight, position-swapping duel between Michael “Buddy” Kofoid, 18, and Chris Windom. Kofoid’s early start in open-wheel racing in midgets and sprint cars at 13 years of age and his immediate prowess are reminiscent of Larson’s early racing talent in midgets and sprints. 

Kofoid has won five main events in the series this season and Windom has seven midget victories. Kofoid leads the USAC National Midget points by 41 markers after 38 of 40 scheduled events. 

The busy USAC campaign is concluding with nine Western Swing races in two states at five dirt tracks. It all started Nov. 12-13 at Arizona Speedway with 25 midgets on hand. Justin Grant and Windom won the 30-lap mains. On Nov. 16, 34 midgets raced at the third-mile Bakersfield Speedway with Kofoid claiming the victory.

Three nights at the quarter-mile Placerville Fairgrounds track had 49 midgets present. Ryan Timms, from Oklahoma, became the youngest ever USAC National Midget feature winner at 15 years, three months, 12 days. 

The second 30-lapper on Friday went to Kyle Larson, driving his own No. 1k at his home track. The sold-out crowd Saturday witnessed a 28-car 100-lap feature. Several drivers led but Grant won his second main of the Western Swing and his third this season. 

Next was a doubleheader at Merced Speedway with Grant continuing his winning ways in Tuesday night’s opener. A race on Wednesday remained at Merced before the series headed to Ventura for the finale.

The USAC National Midget Championship has sanctioned races in 14 different states this season. They are Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Indiana led with 15 events, including eight races in nine days during Indiana Midget Week in early June. There were four rainouts. 

The 51 pre-entered Thanksgiving Midget GP drivers represent 13 different states. As expected, California leads with 30 drivers. Six are from Oklahoma, three from Indiana, and two each from Illinois and Texas. One driver each is from Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, North Carolina and Washington. 

Five female drivers are entered this year — Maria Cofer, Randi Pankratz and Kaylee Bryson will be joined by rookies Taylor Reimer and Jade Avidisian. Bryson and Reimer are Oklahomans who race the entire USAC midget circuit. 

Two past Thanksgiving Midget GP winners are in the field. Tanner Thorson won at Perris in 2015. Larson won at Perris in 2012 and at Ventura in 2016 and ’19. 

Larson had a parade in his honor Nov. 22 in Elk Grove, his hometown near Sacramento. It honored his NASCAR Cup 2021 championship and 10 victories (six more than anyone else), plus his Tulsa Chili Bowl midget, Knoxville Nationals and Eldora Kings Royal sprint car triumphs, major dirt late model wins, and scores of additional triumphs that made it a dream season. 

Car counts at Ventura’s Thanksgiving GP for the last three years have shown resiliency. Pre-COVID-19 the midget car counts have gone from 50 in 2017 to 63 in ’18 and 68 in ’19. The 360 sprints have gone from 49 in 2017 to 42 a year later and 28 last year. 

More than 20 first-time Thanksgiving midget drivers are entered this year. 

Each year the highest finishing TNGP driver has received the rookie award and $500 bonus from Bob Basile, the son of late NSCHoF inductee. Kasey Kahne won the first award in 1998 at Bakersfield Speedway. 

There are seven past Basile Rookie of the Race winners entered in 2021. They are Kyle Larson, Ryan Bernal and Tanner Thorson at Perris, and the last four at Ventura — Carson Macedo, Zeb Wise, Jason McDougal and Cannon McIntosh. 

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