The 65th annual Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix took place tonight on the 1/2-mile Irwindale Speedway oval, marking the 50th consecutive time this seminal event has been promoted by the Agajanian family. The trio of races included a 30-lap Ford...
The 65th annual Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix took place tonight on the 1/2-mile Irwindale Speedway oval, marking the 50th consecutive time this seminal event has been promoted by the Agajanian family.
The trio of races included a 30-lap Ford Focus midget race (on the 1/3-mile interior circuit), a 40-lap Valvoline/USAC Western Sprint Car contest and 100 laps for the USAC National/Western Midget feature.
There was more on the line than victory, as several season-long titles needed to be decided within the scope of this meeting.
In the Ford Focus 30-lapper, the race went to Benny Moon of Shingle Springs, CA, with Casey Riggs (Indianapolis) second and Las Vegas' Jace Meier third.
Alex Harris picked up the title with a fourth place finish. "There's no better place to win a championship than Irwindale Speedway," declared Harris of nearby Simi Valley, who pulled a 15-point advantage over Audra Sasselli of Fresno, CA.
The Focus race was slowed twice for caution, the second yellow collecting NHRA Funny Car champ Gary Scelzi, who nonetheless continued the contest, taking 21st place in a car campaigned by Danny Lasoski.
Pavement-master Dave Steele (Tampa, FL) won the Sprint race by passing early leader Kody Swanson with four laps to go; he started ninth in a 27- car field. Swanson was then passed by Mike Murgoitio of Meridien, OH and finished third. Tim Barber and Bud Kaeding rounded out the top five.
In this championship battle, Kingsburg, CA resident Swanson secured the Western sprint car title by 46 points over second-placed Murgoitio while Barber finished third (after starting the race in second place). This 40- lap contest lasted all of 24 minutes despite two cautions and all but two cars completed the contest.
Parnelli Jones led the 32-car USAC National/Western midget car field for a parade lap and then gave way to the competitors, and for the first half of the race it looked like Steele would be going two-for-two after winning the Sprint car feature.
It wasn't meant to be as he dropped out shortly after mid-race and Long Beach native Jason Leffler took over the point even as his car bottomed all the way around the banked oval, sparks flying at every juncture (from the green).
Hounded by Kyle Nicholas of Naples, FL who found solace on the low line, Leffler kept his place up front even as Nicholas fell off the track and into the perimeter grass, bringing out the second caution.
Eighth-gridded JJ Yeley (Phoenix, AZ) began to pull up and passed Galesburg, IL's Aaron Fike for third at the three-quarter mark.
Despite his bottoming car, Leffler was able to hold off his pursuers until the field bunched again on lap 85 for the fourth caution of the race. Garrett Hansen of Manhattan Beach, CA found hit the [popular] Turn 2 wall, slowing the field for a 9-lap shootout.
Yeley and Fike scraped hard, allowing Leffler some room once again. At the close, it was Leffler for his second Turkey Night title (he won here at Irwindale in 1999), with Fike second, Yeley third, Teddy Beach (Donnelsville, OH) and El Monte, CA native Jerome Rodela fifth.
Rodela, who came into this race trailing Robby Flock by seven points, earned his first Western States midget championship by a 20-point margin, leaving Tyler Brown (Norco, CA) third.
In the USAC National midget series, Josh Wise of Riverside, CA won the title by 172 points over Phoenix AZ's Jerry Coons Jr. while Brad Kuhn of Avon, IN took third.
Leffler explained his front spring backed off and it made the car "much more difficult to drive, especially under braking at the end of the race. This was a long race for everybody and we really had a good car.
"It was a lot of fun to jump in and drive this race; it's special to win the 50th Turkey Night Grand Prix promoted by the Agajanian family," Leffler declared. "They've been so good to this sport."