That wasn’t a surprise to the driver, though. Thorson knew he and Hayward could contend with the traditional midget racing superpowers because he’d worked on the cars himself and knew what they were capable of.

“Anytime you can work on your cars and you’re able to massage every little piece on them and make them the best you can, I think it all helps out in the end. It has definitely taught me a lot,” Thorson noted. “I’ve been really fortunate to get hooked up with Brodie and Sarah (Hayward) and to have the pieces to build what I needed to build for myself, and it definitely shows.

“Racing for them and doing this how we’ve been doing it is something I look forward to every Sunday, where you go wash the car and get ready to restart that process over and go over everything maintenance-wise so you can massage a little bit more on them and keep making them better,” Thorson explained. “I think it helps me as a racer knowing my cars and I think that has been reflected for us on the race track.”

Thorson won the finale of Indiana Midget Week for his third triumph of the season, and ranked fourth in the standings after 11 races.

And yet, despite the team’s hot start and pair of victories — as well as Thorson’s history as a the 2016 USAC National Midget Series champion — Hayward Motorsports is still viewed by many as an underdog when compared to Keith Kunz Motorsports and Clauson Marshall Racing.

Thorson believes the underdog label has been rolled out somewhat due to his comeback from injury, as for a while no one knew whether he’d be able to compete at the same caliber he was at prior to the highway incident. It’s something he has had to answer numerous questions about along the way.

“I feel like I kind of just gave in to it a little bit, with all the questions asked about it,” he noted. “I guess I was really over answering, probably 95 percent of the questions about it, if I’m being honest. But I don’t live on the past in my life, you know? I live on the future and what I’m going for and striving toward.

Tanner Thorson hoists the winner’s check at Kokomo Speedway following an Indiana Midget Week win. (Gary Gasper photo)

“I love working toward something and when everybody asks questions like that, it brings up that stuff. It brings you back to your past,” Thorson continued. “But at DuQuoin, it was a case where everything kind of built off of one thing and it allowed me and allowed our team to make even bigger gains. Once we won one, then we won another one, it was a situation where we just kept growing.

“I think it really made us, as a team, even stronger through that process.”

Though Thorson opened his victory account early this season, there’s still plenty of work to be done for the No. 19 squad. OilFire Whiskey joined Hayward Motorsports as a major sponsor during the Chili Bowl, but it’s not a full-season sponsorship  — at least at this juncture.

That means there’s only one course of action Thorson and company can focus on to keep their momentum rolling forward.

“Win races,” Thorson stated when asked about his game plan in regard to chasing a second USAC national midget crown. “That’s every bit of it, really. In the end, from a title perspective, if you want to win a championship, you need to win races. Even if you’re not running for a championship, you still want to win races.

“My biggest goal in racing is to win and I feel like that’s obviously everybody’s (objective), but I think I want it a little bit more sometimes than most people, just because growing up I had to win in order to keep racing and to pay the bills and whatnot. I feel like I still have that same mentality now, because it’s what we need to do.

“I’d say the success that we’ve had so far as a team is driving me because working on the cars and building really fast race cars is awesome,” Thorson added. “We’re worried about wins, not points, at least for now.”

Thorson circles back around to the Hayward family, who he gives plenty of credit for putting the puzzle pieces in place for them to field a top-shelf racing operation. He also notes they have his respect and appreciation for allowing him to “guide the ship,” so to speak, in pursuit of success for both sides.

“Really, there’s not too many teams in racing that just kind of pop up and have fast race cars and winning potential right out of the gate,” he said. “But Brodie gave me the reins and more or less just said, ‘Go do what you need to do, build this car and build what you need to (in order) to win.’ And we were able to do that. Now we know that we’ve got a really fast race car and a lot of great partners that are behind us and helping us succeed, from the shocks to the motors and filtration, everything.

“There’s a lot to this that makes it go around and makes the goals come true and we’re grateful to all of them.”

While there will still be detractors who look at Thorson and don’t see the winning threat that he still possesses — and perhaps never lost — the driver in question knows what he brings to the table.

For anyone who doesn’t see that, he again called to mind that simple phrase from January’s Chili Bowl press conference.

“I’m back,” Thorson reiterated. “I’ve been back, I feel like. Hopefully now, we can quit saying that and move on to other things.”