Chase Elliott will be among more than 20 rookies set to tackle the Turkey Night Grand Prix this Saturday. (Tom Macht Photo)
Chase Elliott will be among more than 20 rookies set to tackle the Turkey Night Grand Prix this Saturday. (Tom Macht Photo)

Turkey Night GP Rookie Class Aims To Contend

VENTURA, Calif. – Each year, the Turkey Night Grand Prix presents a massively talented crop of drivers from top to bottom, and this year, there’s 22 of them with varying degrees of experience and racing backgrounds.

Among them are the rookies who arrive to stake their claim and make their initial mark on this great race featuring USAC’s NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship, which will take place for the 80th time this Saturday night at California’s Ventura Raceway.

The award, named in memory of track owner, promoter and 1999 National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee Don Basile, made its debut in 1998 with Kasey Kahne the first recipient.

Over the years, the Don Basile Rookie of the Race honors at Turkey Night have been awarded to some of the most talented young racers in America. A glance at the list reveals some of the top names from the sport over the past two decades, including two race winners and seven who’ll be in this year’s field.

The race winners include the likes of Kyle Larson (2011) and Tanner Thorson (2013), along with a talented bunch who’ll all be in the hunt for a win this Saturday night, including Ryan Bernal (2012), Carson Macedo (2016), Zeb Wise (2017), Jason McDougal (2018) and Cannon McIntosh (2019).

These are a group of individuals who’ve made an impact in their first appearance at the prestigious race early in their career before going onto achieve big things within the racing world.

This year’s rookie lineup has its own share of drivers who are on the cusp of big things themselves along with some who’ve already established themselves as household names in the sport.

Among those are 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, a four-time USAC National Midget feature starter this season, who’ll make his Turkey Night debut in a second car for Kyle Larson Racing.

Emerson Axsom and Ryan Timms have already driven to victory lane with the USAC National Midgets in their young careers. Axsom has won twice and stands fourth in the series points while Timms recently won his first career USAC feature a week ago at Placerville (Calif.) Speedway, part of his 16 total sprint car and midget wins nationwide this season.

Cory Eliason has finished in the top-ten in four of his six starts this season with the USAC National Midgets. The last two years, he’s been a frontrunner with the All Star Circuit of Champions winged sprint cars, finishing as the runner-up in points during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Three women are Turkey Night Rookies in 2021, and both have had historic successes with the series in recent years. Kaylee Bryson and Jade Avedisian are among the eight women in the history of USAC National Midget racing to have finished inside the top-ten during a series main event. Taylor Reimer, meanwhile, is one of six women to set fast qualifying time with the series, having done so a week ago at Placerville.

This year’s USAC Western States champion, Blake Bower, will attempt to make his first Turkey Night start as is USAC National Midgets’ top Rookie for 2021, Chase Randall and his Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports teammate, Hayden Reinbold.

Seven-time Turkey Night Grand Prix winning car owner Keith Kunz has three Rookies in his stable on the Kunz/Curb-Agajanian team with USAC National Midget Rookies Reimer, as well as 2021 POWRi Midget champ Bryant Wiedeman and Brenham Crouch.

Jake Andreotti, Mitchel Moles, Chance Crum and Caden Sarale are among the experienced Turkey Night Rookies who’ve all made previous USAC National Midget starts this season on the tour.

They’ll be joined by two-time 2021 USAC Western States Midget feature winner Brody Fuson, west coast winged sprint car standout Kaleb Montgomery, USAC Western States Midget regulars Dylan Ito and Terry Nichols, plus versatile wheelman Jarrett Soares and Ryan Padgett.

Automotive Racing Products, the title sponsor of the 80th running of the Turkey Night Grand Prix, has added $15,000 to the event purse from top-to-bottom for the $10,000-to-win USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship event at Ventura on Saturday night.

Midget practice, plus USAC West Coast Sprint Car heat races, qualifiers and dash will take place on Friday with the sprint car semi-feature and feature events, and the 98-lap USAC Midget season finale taking place on Saturday.

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