INDIANAPOLIS – Coming into the USAC National Midget season, many observers earmarked Tanner Thorson as the odds-on favorite to become the next series champion.
Armed with three years of experience in the series and a seat with the perennially potent Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports team, it was more than enough to provide credence to the notion that Thorson would be a contender to win each and every night he strapped into the TRD – JBL Audio/Bullet/Speedway Toyota No 67.
However, the season opener indoors at the Southern Illinois Center in DuQuoin, Ill., was not a performance anyone was expecting. In what would prove to be the toughest night of the year for Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports, Thorson was the only one out of the team’s five-car stable to transfer to the feature without a provisional, sneaking around Daniel Adler for the final transfer spot on the final lap of the first semi-feature.
Thorson would manage a seventh-place run at DuQuoin before heading into a set of five races in six nights for the 12th annual Indiana Midget Week. In the Midget Week opener at Montpelier, Thorson led Kyle Larson for all but one of the first 25 laps of the 30-lap feature, but after a restart with five laps to go, Thorson began to fade with a tire that was losing air, dropping him to a disappointing 18th place finish.
In the second round of Midget Week, the story was no better after a 19th place run at Gas City I-69 Speedway, which dropped him to a season-low seventh in the standings.
Luckily for him, the season was young and, in this business, memories must be short from one night to the next. One night later, Thorson was back in victory lane with a scintillating performance at Lincoln Park Speedway – the site of his massive crash one year earlier that forced him to miss two races that may very well have prevented him from winning the title. A championship he eventually lost to Tracy Hines by a mere 18 points.
Thorson’s results of 11th, seventh, first, seventh, 10th throughout the next six contests were indicative of the tumultuous beginnings of his season. By early August, Thorson was fifth in the standings, 76 points out of the lead.
The Minden, Nev., native was figuratively searching for traction. The speed was always there, but consistency had been an errant dart throughout much of the campaign, thus far, that Thorson needed to rectify if he was going to be the national champ.
If there was a single event that could be pinpointed as being the turnaround point for Thorson’s season, look no further than the seasonal pivot that took place in the Chad McDaniel Memorial feature event at Solomon Valley Raceway in Kansas on Aug. 3.
No, it wasn’t a victory, but after timing in an uncharacteristic 18th fastest in ProSource Qualifying, the deck was stacked against Thorson.