Logan Seavey (57) and Ryan Timms go side-by-side at the Turkey Night Grand Prix. (Tom Macht Photo)

KENNEDY: Final Turkey Night Observations

LOS ANGELES — Co-grand marshals for the Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix in Ventura were champion USAC Midget Series car owner Steve Lewis, whose midgets won 133 features, and driver Chuck Gurney, a USAC super-modified, midget, sprint car and Silver Crown champion.

Since the prestigious midget event returned to Jim Naylor’s scenic fifth-mile Ventura Raceway in 2016, other worthy grand marshals have been drivers “Sleepy” Tripp, Billy Boat, Robby Flock, Rick Goudy, Cory Kruseman, Jay Drake and Wally Pankratz. Co-grand marshals also included long-time USAC Western VP Tommy Hunt, plus car owners Gary Zarounian and Dick Woodland.

The Don Basile Rookie of the Race awards the highest finishing first-time TNGP feature driver $500 cash each year since 1998. Kasey Kahne was the first recipient. Don’s son Bob, 79, pays $500 annually to honor his father. Bob hopes his children and grandchildren continue the award for many years. The award has its own perpetual trophy with names of every winner on plaques. Bob has awarded $500 for 25 years so he has awarded $25,500 so far.


This year’s TNGP had 26 rookies entered and 24 raced for the Basile rookie award. Seven TNGP rookies made the 26-car feature field. Their finishes (with starting position in parenthesis) were:

25th Basile rookie award winner Corey Day, 17, (from 12th starting to second); 2023 ARCA Menards champion Jesse Love, 20, (21st to ninth); Hayden Reinbold (24th to 11th); Gavin Miller (19th to 13th); Mariah Ede (7th – 15th); Kale Drake, 18, (third – 16th), and Chase McDermand, 23, (sixth – 17th-DNF).

Drake raced in USAC for the first time. He and Xtreme Outlaw Series multi-feature winner McDermand had never seen Ventura Raceway before competing there.

Hunnibell’s Race

Peter Hunnibell, 30, from New Zealand, drove the No. 65nz Spike/Esslinger for Ben Covich, a Californian who finished sixth as a rookie in USAC Western Series points.

“We made contact on Facebook,” Hunnibell said. “Ben called me and offered me his car for all six USAC races in California from November 14 through Ventura.”

Hunnibell said he liked all four speedways (Bakersfield, Placerville, Merced and Ventura). He enjoyed racing on California banked short tracks and said tracks at home are all flat. He said he works as a maintenance engineer in Auckland. He flew to California for the western swing and flew home afterwards.


The 53 entered midget drivers came from 12 states and one foreign nation (New Zealand). California had 34 and Oklahoma had five. Indiana sent three and Arizona two.

One driver each came from Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington.

The 53 sprint car entrants by states showed 41 California residents and 10 from Arizona. One each came from Missouri and Oregon. 13 different states were represented on the 82nd TNGP combined entry list.

Other Notes

Cary Agajanian and brother J. C, Jr. were present at Ventura; brother Chris was in Utah. We were talking about how many of the 82 TNGP races we have attended.

Cary and J. C. Jr. have attended every race since their father resurrected the TNGP and promoted the 1955 TNGP at Gardena Stadium. J. C. said he missed a race in the late 1960s while in Germany.

Last year Cary was at the World Cup in Qatar, so both brothers have attended 68 of 82. Bob Basile said he saw his first TNGP at age six with his father in 1950 at the 14th and final TNGP at Gilmore Stadium. So, Basile also has seen 68.

Dave Vodden said he saw his first TNGP when Tony Bettenhausen won in 1959 at Gardena, so his 64 races ranks fourth. I have seen every TNGP starting in 1962 so this was my 61st consecutive TNGP at seven speedways and ranks fifth.

Long-time timer-scorer Dick Hindman said he witnessed in the mid-50s, but after moving out of California to Nevada we have not seen him at a TNGP during the last three years.

So what TNGP features were the most thrilling?

Suggestions included the 1963-’64 first place duels between Indianapolis 500 winners Parnelli Jones and A. J. Foyt. Basile said the final Ascot TNGP battle between winner Stan Fox and P. J. Jones was a favorite.

My pick was the 2017-’18 lead-swapping duels and frequent slide-job passes between NASCAR’s Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell. Ventura has an annual contender for TNGP exciting races. This year’s race had three leaders and a close one-two finish.


Duplicate car numbers were in both TNGP divisions this year. Midgets had four No. 71 and three No. 19 (same team).

Other popular numbers were: 1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 25, 31, 67, 68, 73 and 88. Sprint cars with the most numbers were three each for Nos. 3, 21, 29 and 51.

Other duplicate digits were; 6, 17, 38, 39 and 98. Two No. 17 sprinters are owned by Tom and Christy Dunkel. Tom drove 17A and 2023 USAC-CRA 410 sprint car champion Brody Roa raced 17R. During heat five on Friday, Roa rode up a right-rear wheel in turn three and executed several endos. He was in and out of consciousness.

An ambulance transported Roa to Ventura County Hospital. A brain scan detected bleeding and doctors stopped it. Brody was discharged the next day and he returned home to recuperate.

It was the first time Roa was transported following a racing crash. Brody and Tom will fly to the upcoming USAC championship awards banquet in Indianapolis to collect their USAC-CRA driver and entrant championship awards.