IRWINDALE, Calif. — Twenty-year-old Bryan Clauson capped his career-best season by winning the 69th running of the Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix Thursday night at Toyota Speedway @ Irwindale.
The event was co-sanctioned by the USAC Mopar National Midget Championship and the USAC Western Midget Series and ran 98 laps of the half-mile asphalt oval in honor of the late race organizer J. C. Agajanian, car owner of Indianapolis 500 and sprint car owner, who used No. 98 on his race cars.
Approximately 5,000 spectators watched Clauson become the 47th different winner of the prestigious granddaddy of midget racing classics. The event dates back 75 years to 1934 when the inaugural Turkey Night Grand Prix was held at Gilmore Stadium in nearby Hollywood.
The Agajanian Promotions event took place at the state-of-the-art Irwindale track for the 11th-consecutive year.
Clauson became the ninth different TNGP winner at the track and fourth-consecutive first-time TNGP winner.
“This is awesome. I ran here two or three times and had great cars and feel I threw some away,” Clauson said. “I got the motor running, stayed calm early and saved my tires. With 98 laps on soft right rears you have to save your tires and brakes. The track changed a bit in turns three and four, so I changed grooves to pass lapped cars. I tried to be careful early. There was dipping and diving. I saw the 11 car (Josh Wise) under me a couple of times.
“This is unbelievable. It’s one of those races you grow up wanting to win. Being with Cary (Agajanian) as my agent, it’s one I wanted to win and hang on the wall.”
As seventh fastest of 40 qualifiers, Clauson was seventh in a 32-car field that started straight-up based on qualifying times for the first seven rows. The remaining rows were decided by finishing positions in two qualifying races.
The winner drove one of four Marc DeBeaumont-owned Beast-Esslinger Ford F&F Mechanical cars in the race.
Other team cars finished second and fifth to claim 60 percent of the top-five finishing positions. Clauson’s winning team, owned by San Francisco-area resident and past USAC Midget feature winning driver DeBeaumont, earned $6,000 from the $33,000 purse.
Clauson raced successfully as a NASCAR developmental driver in Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 Nationwide Series entry last year, but returned to open-wheel racing when sponsorship did not materialize.
Clauson started seventh and climbed to fourth place by lap eight. Wise held the point as Clauson slowly passed one competitor after another in chasing the leader.
Clauson reeled in Wise by lap 40 and made his winning pass entering the third turn on lap 41. Once he took charge, Clauson opened a steady 40-yard lead and won by 2.981 seconds in a race slowed by just two yellow flags.
Levi Roberts, a 19-year-old Broomfield, Colo., resident, started third and faded to eighth within three laps. He charged back to third on lap 75 and took second from Wise a lap later. Roberts, in his first TNGP feature on his second attempt, won the Don Basile Rookie of the Race award in a field of nine TNGP rookies. He drove a DeBeaumont F&F Mechanical Beast-Esslinger Ford and collected $3,200.
“That’s the longest race I ever ran,” Roberts said. “I had trouble with the motor on restarts and dropped positions on restarts. I thought I could win with 15 laps to go and hit a wall with five laps to go. I’ll run as many paved races as I can next year in Beast midgets plus a few sprint-car races. I’ll also race a Spike dirt-track midget for Bryan Clauson.”
Wise, the fastest qualifier of 40 cars that took time in the No. 11 Wilke-Pak Spike-Stanton Toyota, finished third, 5.972 seconds behind Clauson.
Second-starter Jerome Rodela was fourth, while Tanner Swanson drove a third DeBeaumont entry from 19th on the grid to finish fifth.
“It was Marc’s dream to have two of his cars battling for the Turkey Night win,” said Clauson. “He has three full-time employees and there were six guys at the track tonight working on four cars.”
Brad Kuhn hung on to win the Mopar USAC National Midget Championship. Kuhn entered the event with a 53-point lead over Brad Sweet, but was involved in a lap-two accident and retired from the race. Sweet finished sixth, making Kuhn’s final margin a mere eight points.
“It’s not the way I wanted to win (the 2009 championship). I’ll race for Scott Benic again next year and try to win the USAC National Midget championship again and win some big races that got away from us. I’ll race in the Tulsa Chili Bowl event in January. It’s a big race, pays big and I’ll race for a win.”
Meanwhile, Garrett Hansen secured the USAC Western Midget Series championship.
Qualifications: 1. Josh Wise, Wilke-Pak 11, 16.705; 2. Jerome Rodela, Rodela 25, 16.728; 3. Levi Roberts, DeBeaumont 2d, 16.738; 4. Bobby East, Klatt 4, 16.742; 5. Garrett Hansen, Hansen 70, 16.749; 6. Ryan Kaplan, Kaplan/Gennuso 20k, 16.775; 7. Bryan Clauson, DeBeaumont 11d, 16.790; 8. Jason Leffler, Western Speed 45, 16.809; 9. Dakoda Armstrong, C & A 7a, 16.844; 10. Darren Hagen, RFMS 3, 16.853; 11. Zach Daum, Daum 5d, 16.857; 12. Brad Sweet, Kahne/Curb 49, 16.881; 13. Brad Kuhn, RW 17b, 16.898; 14. Cole Whitt, Kunz 1, 16.901; 15. Kody Swanson, Western Speed 40, 16.911; 16. Davey Hamilton, Rev 1 8, 16.940; 17. Cale Conley, Conley 3c, 16.989; 18. Chad Boat, Boat 30, 17.004; 19. Tanner Swanson, DeBeaumont 51, 17.012; 20. Evan Margeson, Margeson 50, 17.014; 21. Scott Pierovich, Pierovich 35, 17.017; 22. Bobby Santos III, Santos 98, 17.019; 23. Thomas Meseraull, McGerigle 38, 17.027; 24. Alex Bowman, Specialty Racing 55, 17.075; 25. Tracy Hines, Loyet 05h, 17.091; 26. Mike Murgoitio, Murgoitio 10, 17.098; 27. Dave Darland, Kruseman 12k, 17.101; 28. Adam Kramer, Kramer 2, 17.103; 29. Shane Hmiel, Kunz 97, 17.115; 30. Cole Carter, Neverlift 15, 17.120; 31. Tony Hunt, Rosen 4x, 17.133; 32. Brad Loyet, Loyet 05, 17.180; 33. Alex Schutte, 21D, DeBeaumont-17.233; 34. Bobby Grewohl, Eskesen 10c, 17.271; 35. Henry Clarke, Kunz 67, 17.276; 36. Nick Wagner, Wagner 93, 17.475; 37. Caleb Armstrong, C & A 7c, 17.528; 38. Cody Swanson, VanDyne 5, 17.532; 39. Austin Mero, Kruseman 14k, 17.766; 40. Nick Chivello, Chivello 27b, 17.798.
First Qualifying Race (12 laps): K. Swanson, Hines, T. Swanson, Darland, Pierovich, Schutte, Hmiel, C. Armstrong, Meseraull, Clarke, Conley, Hunt, Mero.
Second Qualifying Race (12 laps): Boat, Santos, Hamilton, Kramer, Margeson, Carter, Bowman, Murgoitio, Loyet, Grewohl, C. Swanson, Wagner, Chivello.
Feature (98 laps): Clauson, Roberts, Wise, Rodela, T. Swanson, Sweet, Hansen, Bowman, Hamilton, D. Armstrong, K. Swanson, C. Armstrong, East, Daum, Clarke, Darland, Whitt, Boat, Kramer, Schutte, Margeson, Carter, Kaplan, Santos, Hmiel, Hines, Murgotio, Kuhn, Pierovich, Loyet, Leffler, Hagen.