Du Quoin, IL -- As Tanner Thorson recollected over his first three starts of the 2020 USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget season, one of his first thoughts was, "we should be three for three."
Instead, the 2016 series champ has had to settle for winning two out of three on the year thus far following Saturday night's Shamrock Classic victory at the Southern Illinois Center. And like a common refrain from a song you might've heard in the past, 'two out of three ain't bad.'
After capturing a season opening victory in Ocala during February, then dominating the second night at Ocala until an engine issue stifled a surefire victory, Thorson entered the Shamrock Classic with a plan to return to his winning ways, but that plan and the confidence went slightly askew early in the evening.
"After the qualifier, I thought I was about to load this thing up and get out of here," Thorson admitted. "This place has never been really too good to me."
Yet, Thorson and team remained tactful and honed in on the details that allowed him to drive from his 15th starting spot to victory lane, the furthest back in the field a winning driver has started with the series since himself, also from 15th at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Ind. in June of 2019.
"We just kept at it all night," Thorson said. "I was really fast the last time I was here and we kind of brought the same set up here, but it didn't work. We just had to change some things and go through some stuff and it paid off."
In doing so, Thorson kept the streak intact of consecutive different USAC Midget winners to emerge at the Southern Illinois Center to nine and the run of different Shamrock Classic victors to five years running.
Furthermore, Thorson's 15th career series win elevated the Minden, Nev. driver to 46th all-time on the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget feature win list, equaling him with Don Branson and Larry Rice.
The resilient Thorson had unfinished business to attend to after missing last year's Shamrock Classic due to the serious injuries he suffered in a California highway crash. His two most recent visits to the 1/6-mile dirt oval netted him a 7th place finish in 2016 and a 21st place result in 2017.
On Saturday, Thorson began his quest from the last quarter of the field while defending race winner Cannon McIntosh controlled the race from the front with series Rookie Buddy Kofoid in close quarters just behind in second.
On the 12th lap, leader McIntosh clipped the turn three infield berm, forcing him to check up and leave teammate Kofoid no room to maneuver and no time to react. Kofoid tapped McIntosh's rear bumper as a result, sending himself into a spin toward the turn three outside wall and out of contention for the win.
The ensuing restart saw the infield berm rear its ugly head at the opposite end of the track for McIntosh on the lap 13 restart. McIntosh clipped it with his left front, sliding him to a stop and collecting second running Courtney in the fracas, ending both racers their bid for a win on this night.
Nearing the midway point, 2018 Jason Leffler Memorial winner Tyler Thomas was the man on the move, sending it to third by Cole Bodine on the inside of turn three on lap 21 and to second underneath Jake Neuman on the 26th circuit.
With less than 20 to go, it was Thorson's turn to rise to the occasion as he tussled within the top-five and was battling for the third position with Jake Neuman on lap 32 when the two made contact. Neuman received the smaller piece of the wishbone on the deal, spinning to a stop in turn one, while Thorson continued on.
"It's just short track racing," Thorson chalked it up to. "I had a bunch of speed going in there. He got up on the berm and I just got into his back bumper a little bit."
On the ensuing restart, Thorson immediately went to work on Thomas for the runner-up position, ultimately snagging the spot on the 33rd lap. Thorson instantly slashed into Windom's advantage, and two laps later, slid underneath Windom off the fourth corner to secure the lead, finally sticking the right rear tire to the surface, something that he admitted to struggling with all night.
From there onward, Thorson went virtually unchallenged. He clipped the turn one berm with his left front wheel on the lap 40 restart, but it was no harm, no foul as he carried on to a 0.837 second victory aboard his Hayward Motorsports/Oilfire - Factory Kahne - Walker Filtration - Smith Titanium/Spike/Stanton SR-11x.
"This race team is just a big group that works really hard and it helps," Thorson said. "The overall package we have from our shocks to motors to cars, just everything. It's cool to watch the things we do work. Sometimes they don't, obviously, but we're doing a lot of little things that no one probably even thinks about that all add up. We've got a really good team and I'm looking forward to the next one."
Thomas took second over series point leader Windom while career best series performances were turned in by Robert Dalby, who finished fourth, and Kyle Simon who collected a fifth in his first career USAC National Midget feature start.
FEATURE: (50 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Tanner Thorson (15), 2. Tyler Thomas (10), 3. Chris Windom (5), 4. Robert Dalby (7), 5. Kyle Simon (13), 6. Cole Bodine (8), 7. Buddy Kofoid (2), 8. Tanner Carrick (21), 9. Daison Pursley (17), 10. Trey Robb (16), 11. Kevin Thomas Jr. (19), 12. Kendall Ruble (20), 13. Ace McCarthy (9), 14. Justin Grant (11), 15. Cannon McIntosh (1), 16. Jake Neuman (6), 17. Brady Bacon (4), 18. Sam Johnson (12), 19. Robert Bell (18), 20. Tyler Courtney (3), 21. Trey Gropp (14). NT
-USAC Press Release
-Photo credit: Rich Forman