2024 02 13 East Bay High Limit Day Tanner Thorson Kyle Larson Paul Arch Photo Dsc 2982 (13)a
Kyle Larson (57) battles Tanner Thorson Monday at East Bay Raceway Park. (Paul Arch photo)

Will Tanner Thorson Be The Surprise Of The High Limit Season?

When Tanner Thorson headed to Florida for the Feb. 12 High Limit Racing season opener at East Bay Raceway Park, he was merely happy to get away from the piles of snow in Oklahoma.

Not only that, but the upbeat vibe and hype associated with Florida Speedweeks had Thorson unusually excited to start his inaugural season competing on a national sprint car tour.

Though he is best known for his accomplishments as a midget racer, the winged scene isn’t foreign territory for Thorson. He ran sprint cars full time in California in 2018 and has dabbled in the discipline for years — even making a few World of Outlaws appearances here and there.

Despite all that, the 27-year-old also wasn’t fooled into thinking tackling this year’s High Limit championship would be an easy task. 

Over the offseason, the new national tour had stacked up a 17-driver roster, which includes the likes of series co-owner Brad Sweet, Tyler Courtney and Brent Marks.

Thorson, who has been midget racing since 2013, was the 14th driver to confirm his intent to run High Limit’s 59-race schedule.

“This is the first time I’ve really had an opportunity to go full-blown sprint car racing and kind of do it how I want to do it, have the right people in place and have the right equipment and everything,” Thorson said.

Ahead of the new year, the Nevada native was planning to run an assortment of midget and sprint car races. He was already linked up with Rod Gross, who owned the sprint car, and the two originally had agreed on a 25 to 30-race campaign.  

“We were doing it on a lot smaller scale. Smaller trailer, not a pit mule, not a spare car, maybe two motors — not three or four,” Thorson explained.

One of Thorson’s objectives was to get back to California, the place where he cut his teeth as a driver, which happened to align well with High Limit’s western swing.

“My car owner was like, ‘If that’s the case, why don’t we just run the whole thing?’” Thorson recalled. “Then we’ll have a shot at the big prize money and get comfortable and not be stressing about not having as many laps as everybody else.”

That decision was made around the time of the Chili Bowl Nationals in early January, which meant Thorson and his tight-knit crew had about a month-and-a-half to build the team.

He parked his No. 88 midget in the shop — set aside for the 2025 Chili Bowl — and has fully turned his attention to the Rod Gross Motorsports No. 88 winged sprint car.

“We literally built this whole team, probably right at four weeks,” Thorson said.

As short as the timeline was, the team appeared to be on the right track at East Bay.

Upon arrival, Thorson wasted no time in proving his capabilities. He won his heat race, finished third in the dash and collected a podium result during the opening feature of the season.

Even Thorson, who is typically overflowing with confidence, was surprised.

“It surprised me how much speed we had right off the bat in qualifying and stuff like that, but also not because I know the amount of hard work that’s been put into this thing,” Thorson said.

He finished 11th during the “Battle of the Bay” finale after starting 21st, putting him fifth in the standings heading into Thursday’s “Deuces Wild” event at Georgia’s Golden Isles Speedway.

“Nothing to hang our heads over,” Thorson noted before leaving East Bay. “We’ll get this thing washed up and go again.”

Though the second feature didn’t go as planned, the entire experience was rewarding for Thorson, who has been not-so-patiently waiting for his turn to wheel a winged sprint car on the national level.

“I don’t want to sound cocky about it, but I’ve busted my butt for years and year and years to try to perform and try to put the best piece I could on the race track and I’ve finally got someone who could believe in me and give me a shot,” Thorson concluded.