Tulsa, Oklahoma — Last November at Arizona Speedway, Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports found itself two laps away from winning its first ever USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget feature only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them on the final green-white-checkered restart.
The driver that denied them that maiden victory that night was Tanner Thorson.
Fast forward to Sunday night, just five months later, and Thorson is now the pilot for the Reinbold-Underwood team. How fitting it was that the driver who stole the prize from them on that particular night was ultimately the one who finally delivered the long sought after reward.
Thorson (Minden, Nev.) led the final 18 laps in just his second start aboard the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports/AME Electrical – The Healing Tree/Spike/Stanton SR-11x to score his first series victory of the season in the 2nd annual Werco Manufacturing T-Town Midget Showdown presented by the Rayce Rudeen Foundation at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Port City Raceway.
Technically serving as both the opener and closer of the T-Town Midget Showdown, the event had been postponed to Sunday following heavy storms that fell just after Friday night’s Fatheadz Eyewear Qualifying session. Forty-eight hours later, Thorson was standing in victory lane for the 21st time in his USAC National Midget career, moving him past A.J. Foyt for 29th on the all-time list.
The combination of Thorson and Reinbold-Underwood on the midget side of the equation came on April 2 after competing for Dave Mac Motorsports in the first two events of the season at Ocala, Fla. in February.
The transition to a new midget team was made a tad more seamless due to Thorson’s already-established role as Reinbold-Underwood’s full-time USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car driver in 2021, and also because of Thorson’s newly-developed investment with the team, making an offer that team co-owner Andy Reinbold couldn’t refuse.
“I wanted to own my own racecar and own my own motor,” Thorson explained. “Andy’s really close with me, and we’re good friends outside of racing. I gave him the offer to team up and he took it on. I own the racecar and he owns everything else. It’s awesome to get back into victory lane in another racecar, and just continue the speed that we have.”
Thorson relates having a certain peace of mind with being hands-on in the operation, along with crewmembers Tyler Ransbottom, Connor Ridge and Austin French, and with the assistance of Gary Stanton on his engines, who he relates as “like a grandpa” to him.
“I’m big on being able to work on my own racecar at the shop and at the track,” Thorson said. “I like being able to maintenance it myself; that’s something that’s good for my mind when I go out there and race. It’s nothing against anybody else, I just like to have that control because I am a control freak. Everybody that’s been part of this team is great and I’m looking forward to the rest of the year. I know we’ve got a fast racecar, but I’ve still got to fine tune it. It’s not where I want it to be, by any means. We’re going after the title.”
It sure looked just fine on Sunday night. However, an 11th place finish in Saturday’s feature was not what they had in mind for their debut, which ended Thorson’s series-leading streak of 16 consecutive top-ten finishes dating to last July, which funny enough, began with a victory at a dirt track in the state of Oklahoma (Red Dirt Raceway).
A similar streak established at a Sooner State dirt track is just what Thorson hopes can bring him back to the top of the USAC National Midget championship battle when all is said and done in 2021 and reclaim the crown he last wore in 2016.
Thorson started fourth in the 24-car field and watched as pole sitter Justin Grant established the lead during the opening three laps. However, third-starting Sam Johnson was nipping at his heels throughout and was able to slip underneath Grant and lead the first nine laps of his USAC National Midget career while Thorson grabbed second from Grant on the 10th lap.
On the 13th lap, however, Johnson slid off the bottom line in turn one, opening the door for Thorson to drive underneath Johnson, suctioning his car to the bottom and moving himself into the lead where he remained for much of the rest of the way, despite the urges to run wide open on the cushion such as he did the night before.
“Patience kind of bit me last night,” Thorson admitted. “I was wanting to just get up and rip the top because everybody was putting on the bottom. I fell back a few spots because of it, and I knew I wasn’t going to let that happen again tonight. I just learned from my mistake. I’d rather be running the top more than the bottom. I wouldn’t say I’m the best on the bottom, but I am pretty freaking good.”
Heartbreak hit Johnson on the 17th circuit when he spun to a stop in turn four while running second. He restarted but finished 23rd.
By the 21st lap, Daison Pursley, the previous night’s micro sprint winner at Port City, was on the move, getting to the fourth position with Kevin Thomas Jr. in his crosshairs. Entering turn three, Pursley went low for the slider, just as Thomas snagged the cushion. The two forces collided as a result, sending Thomas spinning and Pursley flipping and landing perpendicular with the front bumper pointed to the skies. Thomas was out, while Pursley restarted, finishing 18th.
From there on, Thorson was dominant, opening up an instant half-straightaway lead. However, Grant was able to slightly reel in Thorson on the final lap but was unable to get by with Thorson closing out a 0.297 second victory over Grant, Ethan Mitchell, Chris Windom and Logan Seavey.
Grant (Ione, Calif.) earned his best finish of the season, taking second in his RMS Racing/NOS Energy Drink – EnviroFab – Response Management Serv./Spike/Speedway Toyota.
In his 31st career series start, Mitchell (Mooresville, N.C.) scored the best finish of his USAC National Midget career, a 3rd aboard his Bundy Built Motorsports/QRC – Mark 4 – Walker Filtration – Arai/Spike/Bundy Built Honda, which put three different engine manufacturers on the podium: Stanton, Toyota and Honda.
Meanwhile, ninth place finisher Joe B. Miller (Millersville, Mo.) advanced a total of 37 positions over the two nights of USAC National Midget racing at Port City, which garnered him the honor of ProSource Passing Master for the T-Town Midget Showdown.
-USAC Racing Press Release
-Photo credit: Danny Clum