KENNEDY: Ventura & Turkey Night

Tim Kennedy

LOS ANGELES – The Gathering of the Clans became a popular name for the annual open-competition 410 cu. in. sprint car race at Keith Hall’s half-mile clay Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, Ariz., for decades starting in 1968.

The classic Western World Championship sprint car event occurred each October when most point seasons around the nation had concluded.

Drivers were attracted to the Manzy Western World Championship event by its large at the time payoff for competitors and for the traditional themes with colorful and entertaining pageantry surrounding the three-night event final night Saturday. The Western World Championship was a key part of the sprint car triple crown events that included the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals in August and the Pacific Coast Open at Ascot Park in SoCal during October.

Midget racing has had its usual classic events at the Belleville (Kan.) Nationals from 1978 through 2017 and the annual Tulsa (Okla.) Chili Bowl Midget Classic since 1987. Entries from around the United States and some foreign nations have swelled the Chili Bowl field for the quarter-mile race inside a block-long building to more than 300 entries each January during recent years.

The multi-day event expanded from four to five days and in January will run six nights from Monday through Saturday, Jan. 14-19. It is the undisputed king of midget racing classics in terms of entries and national interest. The Chili Bowl draws entrants and fans from almost everywhere open-wheel racing exists. I witnessed the 1991-92 Chili Bowl events in person and it has grown so much larger since then it is difficult to believe. MAVTV now televises live nationally each year the Saturday C, B and A mains.

The USAC Thanksgiving Night Midget Grand Prix now has restored its claim to the Gathering of the Clan in the West as it was under the auspices of promoter J.C. Agajanian during the glory years at Gardena’s Ascot Park through 1990. Upon his death in 1984 his three sons have kept the Turkey Night Grand Prix annual event on track at five speedways in SoCal.

This year the lure of competing in the annual Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura attracted drivers from 12 states. California, Nevada and Arizona were joined by drivers from the Midwest (Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Ohio), Washington, Colorado, Oklahoma and even New York. So the race could be called the latest gathering of midget racing clans.

The Turkey Night Grand Prix in 2018 followed widely-publicized tragic events in Ventura County starting Nov. 8. Wildfires named Woolsey and Hill scorched about 100,000 acres of the county, killed three persons, and destroyed 1,600 structures before being fully contained on Thanksgiving Day. Also, a crazed lone-gunman shot and killed 12 persons at a western restaurant/nightclub in nearby Thousand Oaks.

Wildfires caused people to evacuate their homes. Approaching wildfires also caused the evacuation of horses and other large animals from private property to Ventura County Fairgrounds, site of Ventura Raceway. Barns were crowded with evacuated animals and areas between barns used in the past as pit stalls for Turkey Night Grand Prix entrants were not available. Barns were fenced off this year. The crowded pit area extended south into the usual pit parking area; rows of pits for midgets and sprint cars consumed pit parking spots. Everyone understood and found parking on paved parking lots elsewhere on the fairgrounds property.

In keeping with the midget racing version of the gathering of the clans, drivers this year came from 12 states. California had 37 representatives and Oklahoma six. Colorado and Indiana sent five drivers each and Arizona three. One driver came from each of the following states — Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio, and Washington.

Turkey Night Grand Prix 360 sprint car drivers came from seven states and New Zealand. California had 28 reps, Arizona four, Indiana and Oklahoma two each. One driver came from each of the following states—Kansas, Nevada, Oregon & off-shore New Zealand. Two late entrants were not identified by a state.