PERRIS, Calif. – Rising star Kyle Larson, a 20-year old versatile open-wheel and stock car driver from Elk Grove, Calif., dominated the 72nd running of the prestigious “Turkey Night Grand Prix” USAC Mopar National and Western Midgets Series event Thanksgiving evening.
He led 77 laps of the scheduled 98-lap feature. The half-mile, semi-banked clay Perris Auto Speedway, which hosted the event in 1996, and more than 4,000 fans welcomed the classic back to dirt for the first time since the 1998 running at Bakersfield Speedway.
The event has been held on the half-mile paved Irwindale Speedway from 1999-2011. Last year Larson finished fourth and received the Don Basile TNGP Rookie of the Race award.
Larson, the third fastest qualifier in a 60-car field, started third and became the third and final race leader on lap 22 of 98.
He drove the No. 71 Keith Kunz Motorsports-Curb-Agajanian Bullet/Speedway Toyota. He earned $6,000 from the $31,000+ purse posted by Don Kazarian’s Oval Entertainment, LLC.
Larson recorded seven triumphs in the 2- race 2012 USAC Mopar National Midget Series. Eleven drivers won the 23 completed races with three events lost to adverse weather. Larson won four of the last five USAC National Midget features, including the last three since September 22.
He became the 14th different USAC Western Midget feature winner in 16 completed races of the 18 race schedule that had two rainouts.
– Darren Hagen, from nearby Riverside, won his first USAC Mopar National Midget Championship in Don Fike’s RFMS No. 3 DRC/Esslinger. He won four 2012 features.
Kunz won the USAC National Midget car owner title and had all three of his cars in the top-10. Shannon McQueen, from Bakersfield, won the USAC Western Midget overall dirt/paved track driving championship. She became the fifth female driving champion in 57 years of USAC racing.
Fresno’s David Prickett won the separate USAC Western dirt track crown for his first USAC driving title. Bryan Clauson won the USAC National Driving Championship (for points accumulated in the three USAC national series) for the third consecutive year.
The honor comes with a financial scholarship to advance his racing career that helped him make the 2012 Indianapolis 500 field.
– Hagen, the ninth qualifier in a 60-car field, set a new track record of 17.025 and broke the USAC mark of 17.037 set by Billy Boat for the 1996 TNGP. The 14 fastest qualifiers advanced directly to the feature. Two 12-lap qualifying races for odd and even number qualifiers 15th and slower transferred the first eight finishers in each qualifier to main event rows eight through 15.
– Oklahoman Brady Bacon and Iowan Davey Ray started first and third respectively and led the qualifying races all the way. Four provisional starters (two National and two Western Series) started from the final two rows. The 34-car field had five former TNGP winners and 12 TNGP feature rookies.
– Jerry Coons Jr. won the 2012 National Midget Driver of the Year (NMDOTY) championship by 130 points over two-time NMDOTY driver championship over two-time NMDOTY champion Brad Kuhn.
Coons won four features, including the prestigious Belleville (Kan.) Nationals in August. He tallied points driving for five different car owners. USAC’s Hagen finished third, 137 points back. After 178 events for all midget sanctioning associations, 508 drivers earned NMDOTY points.
Coons won his first NMDOTY championship five years ago according to NMDOTY coordinator Bryan Gapinski. Kunz/Curb/Agajanian swept the top two positions in the NMDOTY car owner championship. Rico Abreu won the rookie of the year honor. In NMDOTY manufacturers points, Spike won the chassis constructor title and Ford-Esslinger again took the engine builder points championship.
All NMDOTY point fund checks and trophies will be presented in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl final night — Jan. 12, 2013.