PERRIS, Calif. — Dave Darland added to his legacy and joined select company in Thursday night’s 73rd “Turkey Night Grand Prix” at Perris Auto Speedway.
The Lincoln, Ind., veteran avoided a late-race mishap for leader Damion Gardner to win the 98-lap classic and join Mel Kenyon and Stan Fox as the only drivers to win the Thanksgiving race on both dirt and pavement.
Darland took the lead a lap after halfway but appeared to be headed for a runner-up finish until Gardner lost a left-rear wheel on lap 95. He maneuvered the final four circuits unchallenged and won by .823 seconds in the Keith Ford-owned King Racing Products – A&A Precision Machine No. 73 Ellis/Fontana.
“It was definitely a roller-coaster race. Gardner was definitely strong, and it looked like he had it won. We were lucky to get past him when he broke and it was the break we needed. It’s great to win this race on dirt after winning it before on pavement. I’ve had a great time running for Keith & Josh Ford and their crew chief Jimmy May, so I’m happy to get them their first Turkey Night win. This place has been pretty good to me,” Darland said.
Parker Price-Miller took the pole with a track record of 16.889 seconds on the half-mile oval and it was fellow race rookie Andrew Felker beating him off the front row to take the early lead. Felker led comfortably in the early going, as cars diced behind him. The first 26 laps went green, as Darren Hagen moved to the second spot ahead of Caleb Armstrong, Brad Sweet and Darland.
The race fought through some cautions after that point, with torrid racing at the front while under green. The front five raced under a blanket, and Darland finally slid his way into the lead on lap 50. The next lap, Felker jumped the cushion and shredded his left-rear tire.
After that, the groove moved to the high side as Gardner threw a slide-job on Hagen for the second spot. Those two swapped spots as the race hit lap 75, after which yellows were no longer counted.
With 17 to go, Hagen stopped with issues and left the fight up front to Darland, Gardner, Sweet, Armstrong, and a hard-charging Zach Daum. On the restart, Gardner threw the big slider on Darland for the lead and it stuck, despite Darland trying a crossover off turn two. 2013 Honda National Dirt Midget champion Christopher Bell then joined the action with the top five, but he stopped on lap 85 and retired from the event.
As the race went green for ten straight laps, Gardner was unrivaled at the front as Darland and Armstrong raced for second. Sweet and Gardner went at it for fourth at the same time. Coming to complete lap 95, Gardner lost his left-rear wheel in turn-four and stopped suddenly right in front of Darland and Armstrong, who narrowly missed him.
On the final restart, Darland got the jump as Sweet took advantage of Armstrong’s slow restart to vie for second. He held off Armstrong but had nothing for the lead, finishing second in the Esslinger Engineering – Factory Kahne No. 67z Breka/Esslinger.
Armstrong, Daum and 2013 Western Midget champ Ronnie Gardner rounded out the top five.
“Don Basile Rookie of the Race” honors went to Tanner Thorson, who finished 10th.