Kokomo, Indiana………Two nights, two blown engines. Those were the cards Tanner Thorson and his Hayward Motorsports team were dealt in the two races leading up to Sunday’s Indiana Midget Week finale at Kokomo Speedway.
Out of powerplants and out of options, the team received a lifeline in the 11th hour from none other than a fellow competitor. A middle-of-the-night scramble ensued, and a borrowed Toyota engine was installed under the OilFire – FK – Walker Filtration – Smith Titanium/Spike 4-Coil car.
Despite the lack of sleep, the thrashing and the unknowns that were unloaded from their trailer Sunday night, Thorson still believed that all signs pointed to victory.
“For some reason, I felt like it was going to be the day to win. I don’t know why,” Thorson admitted. “I went to bed about 4:30 or 5 this morning and got back up at 8. Dave McIntosh, Cannon Mcintosh’s father, is the reason why were able to race tonight – he and Cody Cordell, who takes care of all of Cannon’s personal equipment. I can’t thank them enough for allowing us to borrow a motor and be able to race.”
Thorson (Minden, Nev.) and Team Hayward defied all the odds that were stacked against them to claim their third USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget victory of the season with a slip underneath on a late-race restart with three laps remaining, then outlasting 2020 Indiana Midget Week champion Kyle Larson to beat him to the line in a photo finish by half a car length – 0.065 of a second.
Thorson’s 16th career USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget feature victory moved him into the top-40 all-time alongside Rico Abreu, George Amick, Billy Cantrell, Lee Kunzman, Bobby Olivero and Henry Pens.
Thorson started seventh in the 22-car field for the 30-lap feature event, but instead of a instantaneous charge, Thorson dropped back to ninth and then to 10th in the early stages of the race. In fact, Thorson was still right where he started (7th) at the halfway point.
On a lap 19 restart, race-long leader Tyler Courtney bounced through turn one and flipped in an incident in which 3rd running Thomas Meseraull also spun. Courtney walked away from the accident, which sent him to a disappointing 21st place finish. Meseraull restarted and raced his way back to 9th.
Thorson was elevated to fourth on the restart, and although Thorson didn’t appear to be a challenger for victory early on, this just happened to be the point where Thorson decided to turn up the wick. He now knew he mustn’t be impatient or overzealous in his pursuit for victory because he also knew that, at this point with 12 laps remaining, his car was just beginning to come to him.
“My whole race started off kind of slow,” Thorson explained. “The last few nights, I’ve been backing up at the start of the race, but my car comes in so good at the end of the race, I knew just to stay patient and not get too crazy cranking on the shocks and just let my car come to me.”
“I kept seeing everyone blow the exit off of two, and a little bit off of four, and I knew that was going to be my speed because I was stuck with what we have going on right now,” Thorson continued. “So stuck and being able to drive off so straight and so fast, and keeping my momentum up even though I was kind of chocking the car up, I knew that was going to be my time to get there.”
The two-car Tucker-Boat Motorsports juggernaut of teammates Chris Windom and Larson now occupied the top-two positions. Those two drivers aimed to provide the Tucker-Boat team a complete sweep of the entirety of Indiana Midget Week feature wins, a feat that had only been accomplished once before in 2016 by Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports.
But with Windom a one-time victor at 2020 IMW and Larson already claiming a record four wins and already having this year’s IMW title in hand, the two appeared to be odds-on favorites to dominate the top-two spots down the stretch. However, Thorson, the 2016 USAC National Midget champ, had other plans in the hopper, as he tracked down Larson and made his move for second with an inside turn two pass of him with five laps to go to move to second.
“Once I got to Larson on that restart, I kept seeing his left front tire locking up and pushing out, pushing out, and I knew I needed to get in there hard and be able to beat him at the exit because he was blowing his exit way too much,” Thorson recalled. “I was able to watch both of them. They weren’t getting as close to the infield tires as I was. A couple times, I actually even brushed it and felt it barely tap the wheels. It’s crazy how precise you have to be to be able to run down there.”
Now with only Windom standing between he and victory, Thorson still had nearly a full second of ground to make up in less than five laps around the half-mile, but received another lifeline when 19th running Ethan Mitchell clipped an infield tire in turn two, which then proceeded to roll into the middle of the racing surface, forcing a yellow flag and a restart with three to go.
It was just what Thorson needed and, as the green flag dropped, Thorson ducked to the inside of Windom exiting turn two and moved to the lead as third-running Larson headed topside and got the groove working just in time to make one last patented charge that saw him pass a series-high total of 41 cars in features throughout Indiana Midget week, including his emergence ahead of Windom on the white flag lap.
On the final lap, Windom attempted to return to the fray up front a car length back of Thorson midway down the back straightaway while Larson held the same social distance length at the top, with Thorson occupying the middle. Thorson closed the lane on the bottom of turns three and four from Windom and came off the final corner to defeat a rocketing Larson on the high line to the stripe by a half-car length in the closest finish of 2020 Indiana Midget Week.
Behind Thorson and Larson, Windom took third while Clinton Boyles secured a career-best 4th place finish and Kyle Cummins was an impressive 5th after starting 15th.
All the work and time that comes into preparing cars to win USAC National Midget races can be taxing, but for Thorson, he considers his role on this team as one that has helped his resurgence in the 2020 season in becoming already a three-time series winner through the first 11 events.
“I think there’s a lot to say about being able to do your own car,” Thorson said. “Nothing against Keith Kunz and his whole team, but there’s something about that, for my satisfaction, to be able to do my car. I get to build it throughout the week and set it up and there’s nothing that means more to me than being able to do that, and I think it drives me even harder. I want to win more than anybody out here and I think a lot of that is because I kind of need to. I make a living off what I make here whether I blow up or not. I might walk out with 5 bucks or I might walk out with 3-grand. It’s just a matter of pushing myself as hard as I can. We’ve been one of the fastest cars all week but just haven’t been in the right situations. (We’ve been) sitting ducks, kind of like those two were tonight. I was able to finally take advantage of that tonight and pull off the win.”
For Larson (Elk Grove, Calif.), his first time running the full Indiana Midget Week schedule since 2011 was a major success, winning four of the six events, and finishing second-place in the other two, including Kokomo, to claim his first IMW title by a 73-point margin, trouncing the previous record 44-point margin set by Darren Hagen in 2012.
But, on Sunday night at Kokomo, Larson very narrowly missed the equivalent of a walk-off home run by winning the final race and the Indiana Midget Week title in one fell swoop such as Bryan Clauson in 2009, Brad Kuhn in 2010, Christopher Bell in 2013 and Rico Abreu in 2015.
“The last restart was really exciting,” Larson recalled. I wish I would’ve got the top going a little sooner. I felt like we were running an okay pace around the bottom where the top wouldn’t keep up. There, we got to that last caution, and I said ‘screw it,’ I got to try something else.”
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 21, 2020 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval – Indiana Midget Week
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Kyle Larson, 86, Tucker/Boat-13.027; 2. Daison Pursley, 9, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.224; 3. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall-13.226; 4. Cannon McIntosh, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.232; 5. Cole Bodine, 39BC, Clauson/Marshall-13.238; 6. Clinton Boyles, 98, RMS-13.242; 7. Chris Windom, 89, Tucker/Boat-13.256; 8. Rico Abreu, 67K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.284; 9. Maria Cofer, 57, Cofer-13.338; 10. Tanner Carrick, 35, Petry-13.347; 11. Andrew Layser, 82, Tucker/Boat-13.355; 12. Shane Golobic, 17w, Wood-13.367; 13. Ethan Mitchell, 19m, Bundy Built-13.395; 14. Kyle Cummins, 3G, Yeley-13.405; 15. Jason McDougal, 21KS, Reynolds-13.412; 16. Spencer Bayston, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-13.421; 17. Tanner Thorson, 19, Hayward-13.423; 18. Kaylee Bryson, 71, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.437; 19. Carson Garrett, 15, Garrett-13.454; 20. Thomas Meseraull, 7x, RMS-13.465; 21. Matt Sherrell, 2D, Harris-13.482; 22. Hayden Reinbold, 19A, Reinbold/Underwood-13.485; 23. Justin Grant, 4A, RAMS-13.491; 24. Landon Simon, 2, Bush-13.503; 25. Jerry Coons Jr., 5, Petry-13.510; 26. Jake Neuman, 3N, Neuman-13.526; 27. Robert Dalby, 4, Dalby-13.571; 28. Buddy Kofoid, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.591; 29. Brady Bacon, 4B, Klatt-13.630; 30. Chase Johnson, 25, Malloy-13.631; 31. Tyler Nelson, 88, Nelson-13.636; 32. Brody Roa, 7m, Iron Dome/Moonshine-13.647; 33. Noah Gass, 5T, Dave Mac-13.729; 34. Ace McCarthy, 28, Dave Mac-13.812; 35. Ronnie Gardner, 7R, Iron Dome/Moonshine-13.954; 36. Justin Dickerson, 21D, Dickerson-14.059; 37. Oliver Akard, 41, Akard-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Tanner Thorson, 2. Kyle Larson, 3. Jerry Coons Jr., 4. Ethan Mitchell, 5. Matt Sherrell, 6. Brady Bacon, 7. Maria Cofer, 8. Cole Bodine, 9. Noah Gass. 2:15.155
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Tanner Carrick, 2. Kaylee Bryson, 3. Kyle Cummins, 4. Clinton Boyles, 5. Daison Pursley, 6. Chase Johnson, 7. Hayden Reinbold, 8. Jake Neuman, 9. Ace McCarthy. 2:18.087
AUTOMETER THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Chris Windom, 2. Tyler Courtney, 3. Justin Grant, 4. Jason McDougal, 5. Carson Garrett, 6. Andrew Layser, 7. Robert Dalby, 8. Ronnie Gardner, 9. Tyler Nelson. NT
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Thomas Meseraull, 2. Rico Abreu, 3. Cannon McIntosh, 4. Buddy Kofoid, 5. Shane Golobic, 6. Landon Simon, 7. Brody Roa, 8. Justin Dickerson, 9. Spencer Bayston. NT
INDY METAL FINISHING SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Cole Bodine, 2. Daison Pursley, 3. Shane Golobic, 4. Andrew Layser, 5. Spencer Bayston, 6. Jake Neuman, 7. Landon Simon, 8. Robert Dalby, 9. Brady Bacon, 10. Chase Johnson, 11. Matt Sherrell, 12. Brody Roa, 13. Maria Cofer, 14. Tyler Nelson, 15. Carson Garrett, 16. Ace McCarthy, 17. Noah Gass, 18. Ronnie Gardner, 19. Hayden Reinbold, 20. Justin Dickerson. 2:51.405
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Tanner Thorson (7), 2. Kyle Larson (5), 3. Chris Windom (2), 4. Clinton Boyles (3), 5. Kyle Cummins (15), 6. Rico Abreu (1), 7. Shane Golobic (13), 8. Jerry Coons Jr. (20), 9. Thomas Meseraull (9), 10. Buddy Kofoid (22), 11. Justin Grant (19), 12. Cannon McIntosh (8), 13. Spencer Bayston (17), 14. Jake Neuman (21), 15. Daison Pursley (10), 16. Andrew Layser (12), 17. Kaylee Bryson (18), 18. Cole Bodine (11), 19. Ethan Mitchell (14), 20. Jason McDougal (16), 21. Tyler Courtney (4), 22. Tanner Carrick (6). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-18 Tyler Courtney, Laps 19-27 Chris Windom, Laps 28-30 Tanner Thorson.
**Tyler Courtney flipped on lap 19 of the feature.
NEW USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Chris Windom-738, 2-Buddy Kofoid-674, 3-Tyler Courtney-667, 4-Tanner Thorson-664, 5-Cannon McIntosh-580, 6-Tanner Carrick-545, 7-Justin Grant-489, 8-Cole Bodine-462, 9-Daison Pursley-455, 10-Kevin Thomas Jr.-441.
FINAL INDIANA MIDGET WEEK POINTS: 1-Kyle Larson-468, 2-Chris Windom-395, 3-Buddy Kofoid-379, 4-Tanner Thorson-370, 5-Tyler Courtney-318, 6-Tanner Carrick-305, 7-Justin Grant-302, 8-Cannon McIntosh-299, 9-Thomas Meseraull-275, 10-Shane Golobic-260.
FINAL INDIANA MIDGET WEEK PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Kyle Larson-41, 2-Justin Grant-28, 3-Thomas Meseraull-24, 4-Cannon McIntosh-23, 5-Chris Windom-22, 6-Shane Golobic-19, 7-Jake Neuman-19, 8-Tanner Carrick-14, 9-Logan Seavey-14, 10-Tanner Thorson-11.
NEW OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Chris Windom-45, 2-Logan Seavey-43, 3-Justin Grant-35, 4-Tanner Thorson-34, 5-Cannon McIntosh-32, 6-Andrew Layser-31, 7-Tanner Carrick-27, 8-Daison Pursley-27, 9-Kevin Thomas Jr.-25, 10-Thomas Meseraull-24.
NEXT USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: July 17, 2020 – Jefferson County Speedway – Fairbury, Nebraska – 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval – Midwest Midget Championship
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Kyle Larson
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Tanner Thorson
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Tanner Carrick
AutoMeter Third Heat Winner: Chris Windom
Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner: Thomas Meseraull
Indy Metal Finishing Semi Winner: Cole Bodine
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Landon Simon
KSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger: Jerry Coons Jr. (20th to 8th)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Spencer Bayston
ProSource Hard Work: Buddy Kofoid
-USAC Racing Press Release
-Photo credit: Mike Roth