DUQUOIN, Ill. – Aggression was the better part of valor for Tanner Thorson on Saturday night, as the Minden, Nev., native raced from 15th to the win in the fifth annual Shamrock Classic presented by Dooling Machine.
For a driver who is traditionally known for being unafraid to mix it up on his way to the front, Thorson did exactly that on the sixth-mile dirt bullring inside the Southern Illinois Center.
The 23-year-old was 12th by the end of the opening lap, after a trio of incidents on the initial start sent five cars to the rear of the field, and inside the top 10 by the end of the eighth of 50 laps in the feature.
From there, Thorson methodically picked his way to the front, taking advantage of others’ misfortune ahead of him and making passes when he needed to before finally claiming the $5,000 winner’s share.
Thorson’s winning move came on lap 35, when he used a huge slider in turns three and four to turn underneath point leader Chris Windom and wrest the top spot away, bringing fans to their feet in the process.
After that, he led the final 16 laps uncontested for his 15th career NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series win and second in three races to open the season.
“Man, this race team … I love working with these guys,” said Thorson. “It’s just a big group that works really hard and keeps digging to get the job done. As a driver, it helps to have that behind you,” Thorson said. “The overall package we have from our shocks to motors to cars, just everything … it’s cool to watch the things we do work. Sometimes they don’t, obviously, but we’re doing a lot of little things that no one probably even thinks about that all add up.
“We’ve got a really good team and even as we’re celebrating this one, I’m looking forward to the next one.”
Thorson’s victory Saturday night made him the fifth different winner in five editions of the Shamrock Classic, but ended the string of drivers winning their first-career USAC national midget feature in the event at four.
Where Thorson triumphed, the night was a struggle for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports, despite the fact that its two heralded young guns – Cannon McIntosh and Buddy Kofoid – turned in perfect preliminary performances to start on the front row and appeared to have the upper hand early on.
McIntosh blitzed the field for the first 11 laps on Saturday night, but his race began to unravel when he clipped the inside berm in turn three and lost momentum, leaving second-running Kofoid with nowhere to go but right into the back of the No. 71k Tulsa Sod & Mulch-backed entry.
Kofoid stalled and had to drop to the rear of the field after the contact, while McIntosh was able to continue. However, the 17-year-old’s problems only intensified after that.
On a restart one lap later, McIntosh clipped the inner berm again – this time in turn one – and again lost momentum in the corner. This time, however, he couldn’t keep his car running and chugged to a halt, collecting Tyler Courtney in the process and ending the hopes at victory for both of them.
McIntosh was able to continue, but Courtney went off on the hook from second, his night dashed.
Thorson found himself seventh at that point, and it took him nine more laps to crack the top five as a bit of a longer run began to develop, but his bigger moves began coming in the second half of the race.
A pass attempt on Jake Neuman with 19 to go led to contact between the two that sent Neuman spinning in the battle for third, then Thorson regrouped on the ensuing restart and bolted up to second after dispatching Tyler Thomas with a slick maneuver in turn two.
From there, he went on the attack to get to the race lead, slashing Windom’s half-second advantage to shreds and finally finding the forward drive he needed coming to 15 to go as Windom’s car began to fade.
Thorson never looked back after that, with Thomas eventually passing Windom for the runner-up spot with 14 to go but having nothing to run down the lead in the final stages.
Windom completed the podium and retained the USAC National Midget Series point lead through three races, but lamented not being able to do more with what he had after “feeling like we had a winning car” through the middle stint of Saturday night’s race.
“The track just went away from where I was planning on running,” Windom noted. “I was wanting to stay on the top all the way around, but Tanner and Tyler were able to stick the bottom and go faster down there than what I could by just keeping my momentum up. They were just a little better than I was tonight.
“I felt like we had the car to win at the mid-point of the race tonight, and then it just got away from us a bit, but we’re off to a really good start,” he added. “We’ve run first, second and third in the first three races of the year, and I think that’s a testament of what Tucker/Boat Motorsports has built with their program.”
Both Robert Dalby, who finished fourth, and fifth-place Kyle Simon took home career-best finishes in USAC national midget competition with impressive runs on Saturday night.
Cole Bodine was sixth, while Kofoid ran back through the field and ended up seventh. Tanner Carrick, Daison Pursley and Trey Robb completed the top 10. Polesitter McIntosh was scored 15th at the finish.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.