KOKOMO, Ind. – With a little help from rival team owner Dave McIntosh, plus a thrilling inside pass off the second corner, Tanner Thorson nipped Kyle Larson in a photo finish to win Sunday night’s Indiana Midget Week finale at Kokomo Speedway.
Thorson, whose Hayward Motorsports team suffered back-to-back engine failures on Friday and Saturday, didn’t even know until early Sunday morning that he’d be able to compete in the last race of the six-night Hoosier State sojourn.
But after getting a loaned Toyota power plant from McIntosh to be able to race, Thorson dug his heels in and put all the pieces together to end up in victory lane after contending at the front of the field throughout the week.
Thorson qualified 17th but won his heat race to improve to an eighth-place starting spot in the feature, and once toward the front he slowly and methodically worked his way into contention.
The Minden, Nev., native dropped as far back as 10th in the first eight laps, while up front, Tyler Courtney jetted from fifth to first on the opening lap and took command of the race in its first half.
Courtney led the opening 18 rotations virtually uncontested, all while Thorson was mired between sixth and eighth, but Thorson finally caught a break during the race’s game-changing restart with 12 to go after Courtney biked his No. 7bc in turn one before flipping out of the race lead.
That crash, combined with third-running Thomas Meseraull spinning to avoid contact, meant that Thorson was elevated from sixth to fourth for the ensuing 12-lap run to the checkered flag.
He took full advantage of the improved track position, as well as found a groove around the very inside line of the quarter-mile bullring, passing Clinton Boyles for third and quickly setting his sights on the leading pair of Tucker/Boat Motorsports cars in Chris Windom and Larson.
Thorson stayed true to the bottom groove, tracking down the top two and passing Larson for second on lap 26, but it was a yellow for a tractor tire that got pulled up onto the race track in turn two with three circuits remaining that closed the running order up and gave Thorson his shot at Windom for the lead.
When the green flag returned, Thorson maneuvered right against the infield tires in the first and second corners, getting grip off the bottom of turn two to power past Windom as Larson looked high in a near-three-wide race for the lead down the backstretch.
But Thorson had both veterans cleared by the time they hit turn three and never looked back again.
Though Larson tried ripping the top side over the last two laps and had a run exiting turn four to the checkered flag, he couldn’t get all the way there and Thorson hung on to win by .065 seconds.
It was his first win of Indiana Midget Week, his third of the season and the 16th of his career with the NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series.
In victory lane, a jubilant Thorson immediately breathed a sigh of relief as the emotion poured out of him and his crew, celebration finally taking place after the trials and tribulations of the preceding five days.
“It’s about damn time!” Thorson exclaimed in victory lane. “That’s what I’m talking about. We’ve been so fast all week with our new package, and we just haven’t had anything go right to be able to put it where it belongs in victory lane. My car hadn’t been too good at the start of the feature, but I knew it was going to come in and it did for the end when it counted.
“I’ve got to thank Dave McIntosh. He loaned me a motor last night, at about 4:30 in the morning, to be able to get out here and race. We weren’t going to make it without him,” Thorson added. “I can’t thank him enough, along with Brodie and Sarah Hayward and everyone that’s involved with this team. I’m pretty speechless right now, but this is pretty badass.”
Larson came home second by a little less than a car length at the finish line, but it was more than enough to secure his first Indiana Midget Week championship in just his second attempt at running the complete mini-series.
With perhaps the most dominant Indiana Midget Week run in history, Larson finished no worse than second across the six nights and won four of the six features, posting an average finish of 1.33 in the process.
He locked up the title simply by transferring through his heat race Sunday at Kokomo, topping Windom – who completed the podium in Sunday night’s 30-lap race – by 73 points in the final tally.
Clinton Boyles and Kyle Cummins filled out the top five, while Buddy Kofoid raced from 22nd to 10th to salvage a third-place finish in the final Indiana Midget Week point standings.
The NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series season continues July 17 at Nebraska’s Jefferson County Speedway with the running of the Midwest Midget Championship.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.