VENTURA, Calif. – California’s Jesse Colwell put North Carolina’s Millbridge Speedway on the map by making the field for Thursday night’s Turkey Night Grand Prix in just his second national-midget start.
Colwell, who won the Keith Kunz Motorsports Giveback Classic presented by Toyota Racing Development for outlaw karts on Oct. 31 to earn a ride at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, won his qualifier at Ventura Raceway to transfer into the 98-lapper and then finished 12th in the main event.
The 19-year-old debuted with KKM at Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway a week earlier before rejoining the team for Turkey Night, part of a program to get him up to speed in a midget before he heads to Tulsa, Okla., in January with Keith Kunz, Pete Willoughby and Toyota Racing as part of an 11-car super team.
After a less-than-stellar start at Bakersfield, Colwell’s expectations for Ventura admittedly weren’t as high as they could have been, but he was pleased with the final outcome on the fifth-mile bullring.
“This is pretty cool,” said Colwell. “To do this and get in this caliber of a field is awesome for me, and I can’t thank Keith and Toyota enough for giving me the opportunity. The biggest thing in a long race like this is that you have to make all the laps and have a car at the end that you can race with, and I feel like we did a pretty good job of that tonight and got a pretty good finish out of it.”
Colwell pointed out that while tough to pass, some incidents in the middle of the field during Thursday night’s race allowed him to advance forward quicker than he expected.
“There were a lot of cars wrecking each other that allowed me to get quite a few spots, but with the fast lane being right around the bottom, it was hard to work traffic,” Colwell noted. “We did what we could in spots and got help in others, but I’m happy with it.”
Now, Colwell looks ahead to the Chili Bowl with much more optimism after putting valuable midget experience on his resume on the West Coast over the past week in his home state.
“These two races have been huge,” Colwell said. “I’ve learned way more during this last week than I would have by just going to Chili Bowl, for sure. It’s a big confidence booster.”
– Thursday night’s victory by Christopher Bell marked the fifth-straight win for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports in the Turkey Night Grand Prix, with three different drivers collecting the famed Aggie trophy during that span.
Bell (2014, ’17, ’18) is the only repeat winner of the current Kunz run, with Tanner Thorson (’15) and Kyle Larson (’16) also picking up wins over the past five years.
All told, Kunz cars finished in four of the top six spots, and at one point had a shot to sweep the podium.
Asked if it ever gets old watching his drivers do battle at the front of the field, Kunz simply smiled.
“When it comes to watching these races, I’m a fan too and I love watching good racing,” noted Kunz. “Just like last year, that was two of the best doing what they’re known for. Midget racing is tough competition to begin with, but Kyle and Christopher just elevate everyone else.
“It’s pretty amazing to watch.”
– Chad Boat was the spoiler to the Keith Kunz party up front, leading the first 50 laps of Thursday night’s feature and ultimately finishing third, just behind Larson and just in front of Tucker Klaasmeyer.
The son of three-time Turkey Night winner Billy Boat, the second-generation driver was hoping to join his father as a champion of the Thanksgiving night classic, but didn’t have enough steam at the end.
“This was a decent night,” noted Boat. “Obviously, you always want to win, but we’re closing the gap to the KKM cars and that gives up a lot of momentum going into the indoor season. We’ll build on this.”
– While Logan Seavey had already clinched the USAC P1 Insurance National Midget Series championship prior to Thursday night’s race at Ventura Raceway, Michael Faccinto won the USAC Western States Midget Series title on a tiebreaker over Alex Schutte.
Faccinto’s three wins, compared to Schutte’s pair of victories, were enough to lift him to the crown.
– The scariest accident of the night came during the Last Chance Showdown for the national midgets, when fourth-starting Holly Shelton took a wild, end-over-end tumble into the turn-one catchfence.
Shelton’s car came to rest quickly and she climbed out under her own power, but stormed back down the frontstretch to the pit area in visible frustration.
Out of provisionals, the 15-lap race was her last chance to make the Turkey Night Grand Prix.
“I just got wore out,” she told SPEED SPORT after returning to her pit.
– This year’s Turkey Night Grand Prix was the 78th running of the prestigious event and the fourth time in its history that it has been held at Ventura Raceway.
The event was previously held at the beachside fifth-mile in 1997 before returning in 2016, where it has remained ever since.