LOS ANGELES, California - The USAC Midget Turkey Night Grand Prix 98-lap distance, instead of the usual 100-laps, was three years in development. Kirk Rockwell, an inventor/manufacturer from the San Fernando Valley, suggested 98-laps to J. C. Agajanian, Jr. as a tribute to his late father, who died in 1984. J.C. Sr. revived the TNGP race in 1955 after an absence of four years. Aggie Jr. liked the idea, but he said it took three years to get it done. "I had to get three approvals-my older brother Cary, host Irwindale Speedway and the USAC sanctioning body." The idea went over well this year and will be continued in 2008.
The "Aggie Trophy" was the idea of then Irwindale Speedway Communications Director Doug Stokes in 2004. The names of all TNGP winners are inscribed on metal panels on the trophy. It will have the name of 2007 winner Dave Darland engraved on one of the panels affixed to the side of the large perpetual trophy that is kept on display at the Irwindale Speedway main office. "Winning the first 98-lap Turkey Night Grand Prix is an honor," Darland told the crowd during ceremonies at the finish line. Dave has many other feature victories in major dirt track events around the country. His wife Brenda and two of his three teenage children were present at IS to witness his most significant paved track triumph. He earned $6,000 from the $33,000 Midget Series portion of the TNGP purse posted by IS management.
The ninth annual Fred Ercse Classic slick-kart race for charity took place on Tuesday night of the TNGP week as usual. The site was Go-Kart World adjacent to the 405 freeway in Carson. USAC driver J. J. Ercse and his wife Lisa stage the event in honor of his dad who died from a heart attack. All proceeds go to the Heart Association. The event is open to anyone who pays the entry fee. This year 52 entrants participated in organized heat races, semi-main and a 50-lap main event. Last year USAC National Midget and Sprint Car champion driver Josh Wise finished third, proving how tough the competition is in the karts. This year USAC Midget/Sprint car drivers Garrett Hansen, Bryan Clauson and Brady Bacon finished 1-2-3 according to a release from Ercse. All three drivers competed in the TNGP at Irwindale two nights later. Karts # 14 and # 5 were involved in a contested finish, but scorers finalized the finish as noted above.
The Wednesday, Nov. 21 USAC only practice session from 3:00 to 9:15 p.m started at 71 degrees and finished at 58. IS track staff, under the direction of Lester Boyer, conducted the practice with safety personnel in position around the track as usual. The cost was $200 per car and about 90 to 100 cars practiced. Many drivers took their first laps around IS. Midgets and sprint cars used the half- mile and Ford Focus Midgets used the third-mile track. Each USAC division ran four lengthy practice sessions. There were a few harmless spins and a blown engine. Race teams parked their rigs in pit stalls randomly beginning Tuesday morning and 24-hour track security was provided through the TNGP on Thursday.
The No. 91-sprint car of Brian Warf, from Meridian, ID, cracked a valve cover during practice Wednesday and did not have a spare. The Alan Kaiser No. 1 sprinter of Tony Hunt, the 2006 series champion, blew its engine during Wednesday practice. The team made its No. 12 second car, driven by Alan's brother Jim Kaiser (also in the top ten in points), available to 2007 series championship contender Hunt. On Wednesday night the team began preparing the 12 car for Hunt's use and taped No. 1 over No. 12 in the No. 1 colors. Kaiser's team made a valve cover available to the No. 91 team so they could race Thursday. In the 40-lap feature Warf's 91 car started 17th and finished 11th for a $350 payoff. Hunt started 11th and finished third for $1,200. Jim Kaiser, without his No. 12 ride, still finished seventh in final USAC Western Sprints point standings. Jim finished six points behind Greg Anderson, the eighth finisher in the TNGP 40-lap sprint main.
NEWSPAPER COVERAGE: Three daily newspapers in SoCal ran TNGP pre-race stories. Some writers were unsuccessful getting interviews with NASCAR Nextel Cup star Kasey Kahne because of over-protective team members. KK may not have even known about the brush-offs. Following the features Thursday, Kasey donned non-racing attire and willingly signed autographs for fans on anything they wanted signed. Keith Lair (San Gabriel Valley Tribune + Pasadena and Whittier papers) wrote about Jason Leffler going for a TNGP triple in Midgets, the new Toyota sprint car engine and Ford Focus Midgets. Tim Haddock (LA Daily News) wrote about Tony Stewart Racing's three-car Midget team and he included notes from the Wednesday practice that he attended. Damian Dottore (Orange County Register) featured Steve Lewis, of Laguna Beach, and his three-car team in his coverage. His story had a photo of Kahne, who raced in two TNGP divisions. LA Times coverage in print was not the usual coverage of the late Shav Glick through 2005. These days Times editors seem to prefer use of electronic media (their web site) for non-stick and ball sports.
TV COVERAGE; Trevor Hocking, Creative Director for Lucas Oil, said the TNGP race was being taped for telecast Saturday, Dec. 22 at 2:00 p.m PST on the Versus Network (formerly Outdoor Life Channel). The one-hour Lucas Motorsports Hour recently showed Oval Nationals Saturday night sprint car racing at Perris. On-air broadcasters will be Rob Knepper, Ken Stout or Larry Rice, with Kenny Sargent and "Crash Gladys" of the "Speed Freaks" radio/TV show doing pit interviews. An earlier release gave Dec. 8 (11:30 a.m) and a repeat broadcast Dec. 13 (12:30 p.m) as the broadcast dates. Check your local listings. AD: A 3 ½ X 7" photo ad in daily newspapers Nov. 18 offered $10 off on two admissions for the 2007 TNGP race. The ad showed a photo of the IS track with the No. 9 Steve Lewis midget superimposed over turn four. Who Knew? The Lewis No. 9, driven by Darland, won the Nov. 22 TNGP main event.
DOUBLEDIPPERS: Fourteen TNGP Midget drivers raced in more than one division. Twelve drivers raced a midget and sprint car. They were D. Hamilton, D. Armstrong, M. Murgoitio, T. Hines, R. Kaplan, B. Santos III, K. Kahne, C. Whitt, B. Noffsinger, K. Swanson, B. Galedrige and C. Windom. R. Josett raced a midget and Ford Focus Midget. Audra Sasselli raced a sprint car and FF Midget. Female drivers were prevalent in all three USAC divisions. There were eight female drivers (6.4%) in the field of 125 total entries in TNGP races-three in Midgets, three in Sprints and two in FF Midgets. Fourth grade teacher Sasselli raced cars in two divisions. Total car counts of paid entries in the 127 total cars showed 66 Midgets, 36 Sprints and 25 FF Midgets. Two of the Midget entries in the pits were backup cars without drivers.
In Midget qualifying, 56 of 62 drivers ran their fastest lap on the second of two laps. In Sprints, 33 of 35 drivers were faster on their second timed lap. TNGP race day temperatures were 64 degrees at noon when practice sessions began, and 56 degrees when the final checkered flag fell at 11:03 p.m. One-lap track records did not fall on Thanksgiving in any of the three USAC divisions. Nick Green celebrated his 21st birthday on race day by setting the fastest lap in sprint qualifying. USAC 360-sprint car driver Greg Anderson is the nephew of former NARC Sprint car champions Johnny and Billy Anderson of Sacramento. World of Outlaws winged sprint car veteran Randy Hannagan, from San Jose, made his first attempt at the paved Irwindale track. "It's my first paved race," he told me before stepping into the backup Nick Rescino sprinter out of San Francisco. Noted print and electronic media journalist Robin Miller, from Indianapolis, was in the pits all night at the 2007 TNGP. His on-air report about the race appeared on "The Speed Report" show on SPEED the Sunday following the race. He gave his report from the front straight with the starters' stand in the background.
TNGP CAR NEWS: The No. 15 Midget is a first-time CMJ chassis from CMJ Racing, owner/operator of the No. 93 NASCAR Late Model Ford Fusion driven by Jameel Saied and later by Ben Walker in 2007 races at Irwindale Speedway. Ben, the younger brother of USAC/WoO/NASCAR driver Tyler Walker, helped build and crew the new CMJ midget. CMJ stands for the first names of Saied family members-Charlie, Mattie and Jameel. Ben told me his brother Tyler was going to race the CMJ 15 midget in the TNGP, but on Saturday, Nov. 17 Tyler broke his forearm in a winged sprint car race-the Trophy Cup event in Tulare, CA-when a car got into his cockpit during a multi-car crash. Jeremy Warren, a 20-year old from Noblesville, IN, raced the car on his first visit to California and missed the feature. The car was entered as the Beach Boys Motorsports of Ohio No. 15 because the father of drivers Teddy and Todd Beach said he owns "about 80%" of the new midget. It looks like a Beast chassis, but the new CMJ car uses different mounting points for key structural components, such as radius rods.
The new Hawk midget owned and driven by Brad Noffsinger, of Concord, NC, could be called the memorial car. Painted on the nose of Brad's black, with white No. 96, full midget were the words-"Spirit of Mom"-to honor his mother Patti who died earlier this year. "In Memory of D. Mike Kelly and Shawna Miller" was painted on the side of the car. Kelly, from Huntington Beach, CA, was a USAC Midget owner in the late 1980s-early 1990s who died from a heart attack. Kelly hired Noffsinger and a young Jeff Gordon as drivers of his No. 4K Beast/Pontiac midget. Then 19-years old, Jeff drove the black & gold numeral Kelly midget to third and second place finishes at the Imperial County Fairgrounds dirt track near El Centro in a pair of USAC main events on the March 3-4, 1990. P. J. Jones and Johnny Parsons won the Saturday-Sunday afternoon 30-lap features. Shawna, 22, died unexpectedly this year at home. She was the daughter of VRA Senior Division 360 sprint car driver Wiley Miller and the cousin of current USAC-CRA 410 sprint-car driver Blake Miller. Brad's midget also carried a sticker in honor of Glenn Howard, the versatile racer/entrepreneur/past SCRA president, who lost his ten-year battle with cancer recently. The hood of Brad's midget also carried the names-Richard Petty Driving Experience (Brad's current employer) and Gardner Pipe & Mechanical (his long-time CRA car-owner).
TNGP MIDGET CHASSIS/ENGINES: There were seven different chassis and 15 different engines listed in the 66-car midget field. Bob East's Beast firm, which began constructing championship open-wheel racing cars in 1988, prevailed again with 51(77%) of the field. Gerhardt had 9 cars and Hawk 2. Blue Dot, CMJ, Spike and Stealth had one car each. Esslinger-Ford was tops in the engine department with 27 (41%) of the field. Mopar was next with 11 and Fontana had 6 engines. There were various Ford, Chevrolet, Mopar, and Toyota engines listed with builders such as Pink, Stanton, and Wirth. FORD FOCUS MIDGET CHASSIS: The 25 entries in this division had seven chassis-Beast 11, Bullet-4, Stealth and Ron Sutton's Winners Circle-3 each, Edmunds-2 and one each from Gerhardt and Spike. TNGP SPRINT CAR CHASSIS/ENGINES: Six chassis were represented in the 36 car field and Beast led with 21(58%). Eagle had 11 cars. Solo cars came from J & J, LeJeune, Rescino and Wysong. Eight engines were listed and Chevy led with 25 (69%). There were 3 Shavers, 2 each Losorwith and Mopar, and single engines from Claxton, Rodeck, Shark and Toyota.
DRIVERS BY STATES: MIDGETS-The 64 drivers came from 16 states and one country. CA led with 23 drivers (36%) followed by IN-16, WA-6, plus 2-each from FL, ID, IL, NC, OH, and 1-each from AZ, CO, MA, MO, MS, OK, OR, and TX. One driver calls Holland home. SPRINT CAR DRIVERS: The 36 drivers came from eight states and one country. CA led with 19 drivers (53%) followed by 3 each from ID, IN and WA, 2 from UT, and 1-each from IL, MA and NC. Two drivers came from Canada. FORD FOCUS MIDGET DRIVERS: The 25 drivers came from seven states. CA led with 17 drivers (68%), followed by 3 from IN and 1-each from IL, NM, NV, UT and WA.
Ford Motor Racing again had its 18-wheeler kitchen set-up in the back pit row to provide hot turkey dinners with all the trimmings on Thanksgiving for Ford teams. Upcoming African-American teenage kart racer Auston Harris, from Hayward, CA, and his father Dean Harris were first-time TNGP spectators and guests of FOMOCO. Auston's goal is stock cars or open wheel racing. USAC CRA Series Coordinator Chris Morgan and his wife Ashley welcomed their first-born child on Sept. 16. Little Audrey Morgan attended the TNGP in her carrier and stayed in the vacant TV booth with her parents. The infant has been to 15 races in the first two months of her life. Top that Emma Gordon.
VINTAGE CARS: There were 12 vintage open-wheel cars on display in the IS chalet village area near the pit entrance. They included a black No. 37 Bob Trostle-built non-wing sprinter and a yellow No. 3 Roger Beck non-wing sprint. Don Ewart, a1960s-70s CRA sprint car driver, bought the never raced Beck-built car recently. Don, now gray and balding at 62, said he left racing after a serious crash and never returned. The 1930s "bath-tub midget" was in line, as was the No. 777 early era sprint car. The display area also had a DAK simulator that charged $5.00 for two simulated open-wheel races that used video screens for realism. Cory Kruseman's Race Driving School had a representative and Cory's four school sprint cars (black # 1, red # 2hi, white # 11 and white # 11B on display). IS track sponsor Toyota displayed under a large tent its show cars--No. 84 Cup Camry, a Toyota engine No. 9 Steve Lewis midget, the No. 30 Tundra truck, a Toyota F-1 car, and an off-road racing Tacoma truck for spectators to view.
ELECTRONIC TIMING SNAFU: Electronic timing malfunctioned twice as the first group of nine FF Midgets tried to log group qualifying laps between 4:01 and 4:29. USAC officials decided to cancel FF Midget qualifying and use the second of two afternoon practice sessions for the official FF qualifying times. Nic Faas had the fastest lap (14.355) during session two at 2:05, but his best lap in session one (14.272) was faster at 12:45. Eleven drivers (Maier, Hommel, Buckley, Atkinson, Sasselli, Laski, Astone III, Carlson, Stout and J. R. Williams) were faster in session one than two. Thirteen drivers (Skoglund, Dyer, Josett, Miille, Fehrman, Shaw, Johnson, Mero, Barth, Sarna, Fuente, Oliver and Austin Williams) were faster in session two. One driver (Adler) had identical 14.719 best laps in both sessions-lap 8 in session one and lap 3 in session two. The AMB timing system was repaired and 35 sprint cars qualified from 4:54 to 5:43 p.m and 62 midgets qualified from 6:03 to 7:20. The autograph session from 5:45 to 6:15 on the front straight had to be canceled. Racing had been scheduled to start at 7:00. The first race started at 7:38. To make-up time USAC officials canceled the FF and sprint car "last chance" races and ran all cars in each of the main events. The two 12-lap midget qualifying races for the 15th and slower qualifiers ran as scheduled with 24 starters in each race. The first eight finishers in each race advanced to the 98-lap feature. When 13th fastest qualifier Ryan Kaplan's car was unable to race (blown engine on his second qualifying lap), USAC added the ninth finishers in each qualifying race, plus two provisional starters (based upon 2007 National and Western car owner points) for a record 35-car TNGP field.
Interestingly, in Midget time trials three 16-year old drivers qualified back to back as the 17th through 19th drivers on the track in best of two laps qualifying. In order they were Cole Whitt, Chris Windom and Dakoda Armstrong. The Midget Division top 14 drivers in time trials advanced directly to the main event. Josh Wise (19th driver to qualify) ran a 17.230. Midget rookie Ricky Ehrgott was the 45th driver to qualify and he turned an identical 17.230 best lap. Wise went to the feature directly because he qualified ahead of Ehrgott, who had to race in one of the qualifying races, which he won to earn a feature berth. First-time TNGP Midget drivers were Robby Josett, Shane Golobic, Brent Beauchamp, Kevin Morris, Justin Melton, Jeremy Warren and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.; first-time TNGP sprint car drivers were Whitt, Windom, Armstrong, Tanner Swanson, Merv Barcelo, Randy Hannagan and Snake Livernash, from Spanaway, WA. (Snake's real first name is Ethan. He acquired the nickname Snake as a youth because of the way he snaked his way through traffic to the front.) FF Midget drivers who competed in their first TNGP were Adam Barth, Gregg Fuente, C. J. Sarna, Eric Fehrman, Zack Stout and Tommy Astone III, from Madera).
TEENS: Teenage Midget and Sprint Car drivers were plentiful this year. They included 16-year olds-Whitt, Windom, Armstrong, Golobic, Josett, Beauchamp & Tanner Swanson; 17-year olds-Brad Bacon, Levi Roberts, Michael Faccinto, Jo Jo Helberg & Zach Schiff; 18-year olds-Bryan Clauson, Laura Poorter; 19-year olds-Kody Swanson, James Robertson, Brad Loyet, Stephanie Mockler, Scott Pierovich, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. & Ehrgott. In contrast to the 16-year old youngest drivers, FF Midget driver/retired airline pilot J. R. Williams was the oldest TNGP driver at 72 and 11 months. Eighteen graduates of the FF Midget Series raced in the 2007 TNGP Midget or sprint car divisions. They were: Daniel Bedford, Ehrgott, Faccinto, Bradley Galedrige, Garrett Hansen, Josett, Kaplan, Loyet, Mockler, Poorter, Roberts, Robertson, Sasselli, Schiff, Chase Scott, T. Swanson, Travis Young and Paul Zimmerly.
The press box door had the following 8 X 11" paper sign-"Shav Glick Media Center"-in honor of the late 87-year old long-time LA Times motor-sports writer. Debi Supan, who publishes "Speed Media News" in Colorado, did a "near live" account from the IS press box via the Internet for all three TNGP USAC events. Her son Matt raced the No. 42 FF Midget in the USAC North Carolina Series. Debi sat next to the AMB live scoring screen in the press box and gave an accurate live feed on the Internet as each race progressed. At the end of the final race Nov. 22 the on screen hit meter registered 38,841 hits during her broadcast, showing the widespread interest in the annual TNGP classic. The TNGP ranks with the Tulsa Chili Bowl, Belleville (KS) Nationals, Terre Haute (IN) "Hut 100" and PIR Copper World Classic in prestigious midget racing events. The TNGP pre-dates them all by decades and is the grand-daddy of midget racing classics. Harold Osmer and Neil Nissing published another outstanding 42-page TNGP race program that sold for $5.00. The color-cover artwork by racing artist Joe Henning featured TNGP winners Billy Wease (2006) and Ronnie Householder (1936) and their cars. The "Program Guys" printed 1,500 of these collector programs and less than 300 remain. To purchase one of the remaining TNGP programs, contact Harold at firstname.lastname@example.org. Howie, at RAZ Video, of Pasadena, recorded the TNGP and it is available from www.RAZVideo.com.
Cleo the dog returned to the TNGP in the back of the light blue Jeep push vehicle owned by Steve Clink of Bakersfield. The friendly, seven-year old Yellow Lab shares the push truck ride on an alternating basis with one of her daughter puppies of last year that Clink kept. Cleo has pushed off midgets and sprint cars at various tracks, such as Knoxville and Oskaloosa, IA, Belleville, KS and at the annual Tulsa (OK) Chili Bowl. The late WoO founder/president Ted Johnson saw Cleo at a Tulare (CA) Trophy Cup winged sprint car race and asked for one of her puppies. So famous is Cleo that drivers and crews often give Cleo a pat on her head for luck. Tied to the passenger or back seat of the Jeep, Cleo and her owner/driver Clink have pushed off many race winners over the years.
TNGP ROOKIES ELIGIBLE FOR DON BASILE ROOKIE OF THE RACE: Per USAC VP Dick Jordan, the 64-driver field in 2007 contained 31 TNGP rookies (who had never made a TNGP feature). Twelve of the 31 made the 98-lap main. They were (in order of their finish with position in parenthesis): Murgoitio (P 4), WMRA 2007 champion Margeson (P 8), Zimmerly (P 11), Sweet (P 13), Windom (P 15), Ehrgott (P 16), Armstrong (P 17), Whitt (P 19), Faccinto (P 20), Melton (P 25), Schiff (P 28) and Stenhouse (P 29). Winner Mike Murgoitio, a 23-year old Midget, 360-sprint and Silver Crown driver from Meridian, ID, clearly deserved the award because he ran in the top five all the way. Indianapolis 500 veterans in the 2007 TNGP were Davey Hamilton and Jason Leffler. NASCAR Cup veterans in the 2007 TNGP field were Kahne, Leffler and Noffsinger.
DRIVER DEVELOPMENT: Seven open-wheel drivers at the TNGP are development drivers of NASCAR or ARCA stock car teams. They are: Josh Wise (Darrell Waltrip Toyota Trucks and Busch & Eddie Sharp ARCA in 2007); Billy Wease (Roger Penske Mopar); Bobby Santos III (Bill Davis Racing Toyota); Bobby East (FOMOCO in trucks and Busch Brewco Fords); Bryan Clauson (an ARCA winner in '07 at Gateway International Raceway about Labor Day and Busch for Chip Ganassi ) + Brady Bacon (Ganassi as well with a 2008 Kahne USAC midget and sprint car deal); Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (Roush-Fenway Racing for 2008 ARCA stock car series). Stock car teams seeking talented young open-wheel drivers to move into their development programs should consider brothers Kody and Tanner Swanson, Brad Sweet, Chris Windom, Ryan Kaplan, Bradley Galedrige, Chris Whitt, Darren Hagen, Nic Faas and several others who raced at the TNGP. By the way, the Swanson brothers sponsor on their No. 17 and 75 Eagle/Chevy sprint cars is their family dentist, Dr. Keith Williams, DDS, who also is Kody's race day spotter.
Fastest laps in each of the three TNGP main events: FF Midgets-winner Faas at 14.298 (83.844 mph) on lap 31 of 40. Second best was 11th finisher Mike Maier at 14.431 (83.072 mph) on lap 3 while leading. Sprint cars-Runner-up Whitt at 16.807 (107.098 mph) on lap 5 of 40. Second fastest lap was by winner Santos at 16.873 (106.679 mph) on lap 8. Third finisher Tony Hunt was the only other driver with a sub-17-second lap at 16.977 on lap 20. Midgets-winner Darland at 17.461 (103.087 mph) on lap 44 of 98. Second place Kahne ran the second fastest race lap at 17.496 (102.881 mph) on lap 45. Kody Swanson's 17.518 on lap 11 and Josh Wise's 17.562 on lap 46 were third and fourth fastest but they both dropped out early on lap 27 and 49 respectively.
Tony Stewart, a two-time NASCAR Cup champion, was in the Irwindale pits of his three-car USAC Midget team during Wednesday practice and at the TNGP Thursday. He observed from the pits and did not feel the need to race this year. Injured Tracy Hines resumed racing for TSR at Phoenix Nov. 8 after he lost most of the season as a result of leg injuries in an off-road motorcycle crash. Stewart raced in past Turkey Night races at Irwindale. Tony won the TNGP 100 in 2000 driving for Steve Lewis and he raced one of his own TSR cars as late as the 2004 TNGP. Tony saw two of his three midgets (driven by Levi Jones and Stenhouse, Jr.) eliminated in the same crash on lap 26 in the first corner. His third car (Hines) dropped out on lap 55.
Jace Meier raced the No. 9 Ron Sutton Stealth FF Midget in the 2005 and 2006 TNGP FF events. In 2007 he raced a NASCAR Auto Club Late Model Chevy Monte Carlo (No. 55 Tim Huddleston team) at Irwindale all season and finished second in final points after winning one feature. He won IS ACLM Series rookie of the year honors. In September the 18-year old comer from Las Vegas enrolled as a freshman on scholarship at Belmont Abbey College near Charlotte, NC. He is receiving "A"-grades and even took time to race Nov. 10 at the Las Vegas Bullring 3/8-mile track in the No. 55 Chevy late model. Jace "the Ace" returned to IS on his Thanksgiving holiday to watch the 2007 TNGP. 2008 DRIVER PLANS: Daniel Adler, a two-year veteran in Sutton's Winners Circle FF Midget driver development program, will be racing a NASCAR late model at Irwindale in 2008. Sutton driver Paul Zimmerly, from WA, moved up to a full midget Nov. 22 and finished 11th in the TNGP 98-lap main. Caitlin Shaw, the Albuquerque teen who finished third in the 2007 TNGP FF Midget main, will move up to full midgets and also will attend Belmont Abbey College in NC. Midget/sprint driver Alfred Galedrige will follow in the footsteps of NASCAR driver Ryan Newman and will pursue a mechanical engineering degree at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana.
TNGP MECHANICAL PROBLEMS: Ryan Kaplan, the 15th driver to qualify, blew the engine of his dad Ken's Stealth/Stanton Mopar on his second qualifying lap. The 21-year old FF Midget graduate and 2007 USAC Western Sprint car champ/rookie of the year turned a 17.220 on lap 1 and was potentially faster on lap 2 when his engine soured in turn four and he slowed to the finish line with a 17.550. He wound up 13th fastest overall, but he was eliminated by a lifter problem. REASONS FOR DNF in the Midget Main: Josh Wise No. 75-blew the Toyota engine and pulled to the infield on lap 49. He started 14th and was up to fourth when he parked. Second fastest qualifier Bobby Santos III retired with a flat RR tire from the lap 26 first turn debris. Mitchell Racing parked two cars--No. 37 (Matt Mitchell) overheating, and No. 87 (2007 Western champion Johnny Rodriguez) dragging belly pan. Fastest qualifier Kody Swanson, leader of the first two laps, was in second position in Steve Lewis' No. 19 when the four-car crash on lap 26 occurred in turn one. Kody dived to the inside, but a shock absorber from one of the crashed midgets got stuck under the belly pan of his No. 19 Steve Lewis Toyota and dragged on the track. Kody said it took four of his crewmen to raise and remove the shock from the bottom of his car after the race. Jerry Coons, Jr., the popular 2007 USAC National Midget champion, lost his brakes and dropped out on his 86th lap. The 98-lap Midget main took 33:09.135 (88.682 mph)-a NTR. The existing 100-lap USAC Midget track record is 35:25.704 (84.678 mph) by Dave Steele on 11/27/03.
STARTING FIELDS --TNGP MIDGET FEATURES AT IS 1999-2007: Prior to the first race at Irwindale Speedway in 1999, TNGP feature fields were limited to 24 maximum starters at various dirt tracks such as Bakersfield, Perris and Ventura. Paved Saugus Speedway started 26 midgets in 1991. Gardena's half-mile clay Ascot Park, which closed with the 1990 TNGP, started 30 cars in the 1989 and 1990 TNGP 100-lap races. TNGP main event starting fields & winners at IS: 1999-32 cars, Jason Leffler in Steve Lewis No. 9; 2000-a record 34 cars, Tony Stewart in S. Lewis No. 19; 2001-32 cars, Dave Steele in Dino Tomassi No. 29; 2002-31 cars, Michael Lewis in Mike Reed No. 11; 2003-30 cars, Steele in Tomassi No. 29; 2004-31 cars, Bobby East in S. Lewis No. 9; 2005-32 cars, Leffler in Braun Racing No. 32; 2006-34 cars, Billy Wease in Western Speed No. 80, and 2007-a record 35 cars, Darland in S. Lewis No. 9.
FF MIDGETS AT TNGP: Ford Focus Midgets, built by Keith Iaia's SCREAM, Inc. in California, began racing in 2002. This new USAC Series first appeared in a TNGP that year. FF Midget TNGP fields were 17 in 2002 and 27, 21, 26, 23 and 25 in the following years. TNGP FF Midget features have produced six different winners as follows: 2002-Todd Hunsaker in his own No. 6x; 2003-Ryan Pace in the Pace Bros. No. 14; 2004-Bobby McGowan in the McGowan No. 15; 2005-Benny Moon in Ron Sutton's No. 3; 2006-Michael Faccinto in Gary Scelzi's No. 4x, and 2007-Nic Faas in his Faas No. 17.
The final car to enter the crowded pits on Thanksgiving Day was the colorful No. 32k TCR/Fontana of Kirk Kubik. The 4-sale car is one of two final TCR midgets built by Larry Brown in Bakersfield. It was intended for a buyer in New Zealand. The car competed as a rental car at the last Tulsa Chili Bowl and is available as a rental again in January 2008 with the rent applying towards purchase of the car. Kubik's firm--BuiltforSpeedPaint.com--provided free helmet paint jobs to winning drivers at the recent Oval Nationals USAC sprint car race at Perris. USAC-CRA 410 cu. in. sprint car teams just completed their fourth season under the USAC banner. The popular, competitive dirt track series has had four different champion drivers and four champion car owners. They are: 2004-Rip Williams in John & Sharon Jory No. 3; 2005-Damion Gardner in Ron Chaffin No. 50; 2006-Cory Kruseman in Glenn Crossno No. 38, and 2007-Tony Jones in Mark & Steve Alexander No. 4.