“I’m back.”

Those two simple words, delivered with authority by Minden, Nev., hotshoe Tanner Thorson after his Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals preliminary victory in January, represented much more than a statement of bravado on Thorson’s part.

Rather, the simple sentence was one of fact, considering all the adversity Thorson had weathered over the preceding year.

Thorson’s seat at the head of the table in the Tulsa Expo Center’s press room following the Friday Chili Bowl prelim came as, perhaps, the biggest step on a long road back from injuries sustained in a March 2019 highway accident.

The crash in Modesto, Calif., sidelined Thorson with serious injuries that placed his racing career in doubt.

Among the challenges Thorson had to heal from and overcome were a broken right foot, fractured left arm, cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung.

However, only 92 days after many thought Thorson’s career was over, he hopped back behind the wheel of a midget for Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian Motorsports and finished second in Indiana Midget Week competition at Montpelier Motor Speedway.

Tanner Thorson on his way to victory Saturday night during the Shamrock Classic. (Mark Coffman Photo)
Tanner Thorson on his way to victory during the Shamrock Classic. (Mark Coffman Photo)

Two nights later, at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Ind., Thorson won his third race back in thrilling fashion, proving to everyone — including himself — that he hadn’t lost his touch behind the wheel.

“To come right back out of the box and perform like we did that night was absolutely a big deal for me. It was a reminder that we know how to do this and that I can still perform at that level,” Thorson told SPEED SPORT. “Those three months I spent recovering were really hard on me. It’s something that I’ve never shared with anyone, really, but after the accident and getting hurt like I was … I didn’t know if (racing) was going to be the same, or if I was even going to be able to continue to do it.

“With the way that my arms bend in the car, how my foot was hurt and everything that I went through, there were a lot of unknowns that we had to get through to get back to this point,” he continued. “Everything’s worked out really well though, and I feel good. Thank God I got a call from Keith (Kunz) and Pete (Willoughby) to come back and get going again, because it proved that people still believed in me to go out and do this and compete at a high level.”

Though Thorson departed KKM later in the year, he ultimately landed in a situation that may have turned out even better than the 24-year-old could have envisioned.

Thorson connected with well-known midget owner and businessman Brodie Hayward late in 2019, starting off as a mechanic for Hayward Motorsports before growing into a driving role once again.

His breakout victory for the team at the Chili Bowl led to a shot to open the NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series season at Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park in February. Thorson took full advantage of it.

He won the opening race of the USAC midget season and was in position to sweep the weekend before he suffered an engine failure with six laps to go during the second of two nights at the three-eighths-mile dirt track.

That speed bump didn’t slow Thorson at all. He came roaring back during the Shamrock Classic at the Southern Illinois Center in DuQuoin during March, climbing from 15th on the grid to win on the indoor sixth-mile oval in thrilling fashion.

It was that second victory in three races to start the season that opened the eyes of many of Thorson’s competitors that Hayward Motorsports, with Thorson at the helm, could be a legitimate contender for the series championship.

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