Irwindale Turkey Night Grand Prix Tid Bits

Turkey Night Tid-Bits - by HAROLD OSMER 1934 - Winner Bob Swanson claimed top honors at Gilmore Stadium for only his fifth time. He would go on to win 53 Gilmore Main Event victories - nearly twice that of his nearest competitor - ...

Turkey Night Tid-Bits - by HAROLD OSMER

1934 - Winner Bob Swanson claimed top honors at Gilmore Stadium for only his fifth time. He would go on to win 53 Gilmore Main Event victories - nearly twice that of his nearest competitor - between 1935 and 1939. His race car overturned during time trials in Ohio, June 1940.

1935 - Chicago-based driver Pat Warren was first under the checkers, but set back to second after race officials ruled that he was cutting Gilmore's dry-slick corners short. Ted Sizemore was declared the winner in his "bathtub" racer.

1939 - Local hotshoe Danny "Poisin" Oakes collided with a spinning Lyle Dickey during time trials, eliminating both from competition.

1939 - Roy Russing lead the first 140 (of 150 laps) laps only to send a connecting rod through the crankcase and finish in tenth position. Attendance: 18,000 (capacity)

1940 - Roy Russing wins the Midget Grand Prix and National Championship in a runaway.

1940 - Pole sitter (by virtue of a fully inverted lineup) Sport Briggs planted himself firmly in second place and proceeds to hold up the pack until causing a spectacular crash which sent one driver to the hospital and shook up the entire field. Briggs finished fourth. Fast time qualifier Danny Oakes closed from outside back row to third. This was the last time for a fully inverted lineup.

1941 - Roy Russing wins his second Midget Grand Prix and National Championship after a close duel with Swede Lindskog.

1947 - Fast qualifier Johnny McDowell turned the Gilmore quarter in 14.25 seconds. Sitting on the outside of the back row was Danny Oakes, who turned in a lap of 14.72. Lyle Dickey started tenth at the outside back row position for the semi with a 15.12.

1947 - Fog and rain delayed the Midget Grand Prix until December (!) 14. The event was held at Gilmore Stadium in the daylight, starting at 1pm - marking the only time this event was run during the day. Johnny McDowell wins from the pole.

1948 - From the 1947 field of qualifiers, only Johnny McDowell's pole time would have been fast enough to qualify for the 1948 event.

1950 - Final event for Gilmore Stadium was the Midget Grand Prix. "Daring" Bill Zaring took top honors. Allan Heath finished fourth, marking the first time in four years that the pole sitter did not emerge as victor. Attendance: 10,544

1955 - JC Agajanian holds the Gilmore Grand Prix at Gardena Stadium and attracts a full dozen Indianapolis 500 qualified drivers to the show. 1950 Indy 500 champion Johnnie Parsons wins the 150-lap Grand Prix. Attendance: 6148 (capacity)

1958 - In an effort to reduce the pole position advantage, JC Agajanian adopts a Monza-style format. The 18 racers competed in three separate 50 lappers. "Bullet Joe" Garson, the oldest driver in the race at age 50, amassed the most combined points to claim victory. 1960 - The race is moved to Ascot Park. USAC "Big Car" champion AJ Foyt wins the 20th annual event. Heavy fog reduced the race from 150 to 122 laps.

1961 - AJ Foyt wins the Indianapolis 500, USAC big car championship, and the Midget Grand Prix.

1964 - Parnelli Jones lapped the entire field in a wire-to-wire victory.

1965 - Rain delays the show until Saturday night. Rising sprint car star Dick Atkins from Hayward, California takes the win after Jones flips and Foyt's tires fade.

1967 - Mario Andretti held the lead until spinning on lap 38. Gary Bettenhausen wins becoming the first son of a winner (father Tony, 1959) to claim victory.

1970 - Gary Bettenhausen wins his second Grand Prix, this time with Chevy II power. The 1969 winning Offy, driven by Tommy Copp, was not fast enough to make the field. This marked the first ever Grand Prix victory for something other than an Offy.

1972 - Name of USAC Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix adopted.

1974 - Danny McNight brought his Caruthers VW to victory circle. This was the first time a radiator was not used in the winning car.

1975 - Race is moved to the pavement at Speedway 605 due to financial troubles at Ascot Park. Mel Kenyon won his second Grand Prix in this rain delayed event.

1979 - Ron Shuman begins his domination the annual event with his first Grand Prix victory. Through a combination of driving skill and car preparation, "The Flyin' Shoe" strung out nine Grand Prix victories including a run of four in a row ('79-'82). He broke a driveshaft while leading late in the 1983 race then won again in 1984.

1990 - Ascot Park closes its doors after 33 years following Stan Fox's victory.

1991 - Event moved to the pavement at Saugus Speedway. Stan Fox once again emerges victorious.

1996 - Turkey Night is taken to the new Perris Auto Speedway to close its inaugural season. True to traditional Grand Prix form, future Indy 500 star Billy Boat takes center step on the podium. This would be his second of three in a row.

1997 - Billy Boat claims his third Turkey Night victory in a row. The event is marked by a format change which stopped all cars at the 50 lap point, allowing crews to makes whatever adjustments they might need, then restarting. Boat runs essentially wire-to-wire, but the second, third, and fourth place finishers provided a dramatic show and were all within a straightaway at the finish.

1998 - Jay Drake won a wild show as Bakersfield Speedway hosted its fifth Grand Prix ('92-'95). A field of 69 cars competed for the 24 starting positions.

There has never been a driver fatality during a Midget Grand Prix race.

Name changes: 1934-50 Grand Prix (Gilmore Stadium)

1955-59 Gilmore Grand Prix (Gardena Stadium)

1960-71 Thanksgiving Day Midget Car Grand Prix (Ascot Park)

Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix (Ascot Park + )

Variations on the above themes are prevalent through the years. The first press mention of "Turkey Night" was made by LA Times sports reporter Bob Thomas in 1966 when he referred to the event as "...something of a Turkey Day tradition in the area for more than three decades."

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series USAC
Drivers Billy Boat , Mario Andretti , Parnelli Jones , Jay Drake