VENTURA, Calif. – Wednesday’s open practice for the 78th annual Turkey Night Grand Prix left several drivers with a lot to be thankful for early on, but perhaps none more so than 16-year-old Sam Johnson.
Johnson, who is finishing up his first full season in a national midget with Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports, had never seen the quarter-mile Ventura Raceway before taking to the track for hot laps but instantly impressed with some fast laps in his No. 72 Kokomo Joe’s Bullet/Speedway Toyota.
The St. Peters, Mo., young gun landed 10th overall on single-lap speed between the three sessions of midget practice held through the day on Wednesday, with his best lap of 12.319 seconds ( mph) coming during the daytime round.
Johnson stayed consistent as the sun went down, lapping within .005 of his early lap in second practice under the lights. His two runs placed him fifth and sixth, respectively, on the time sheets for each round.
It was a day that admittedly surprised the young shoe, though Johnson grinned when discussing his chances for Thursday night’s racing program.
“That was a lot of fun!” Johnson told SPEED SPORT. “The track was really, really good and my car was really hooked up, right around the bottom. If we can maintain that pace, I think we should be really good for the race and have a shot to make the show.”
Johnson’s Turkey Night pace comes after a strong showing at Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway last weekend, where he qualified third, started eighth and ultimately finished 14th after a strong day.
“Just getting laps has really helped me this season,” Johnson noted. “Qualifying third at Bakersfield was a huge high point for me and it has really built my confidence up going into these last few races of the year. I never would have dreamed I’d be at this point in my career so soon, so I just want to go out and make the most of the opportunity.”
– One of the surprises on Wednesday’s time sheets was the lack of recently-crowned USAC National Midget Series champion Logan Seavey from the top of the rundown.
Seavey was a distant 36th in the opening round of practice, but improved more than three tenths of a second to move up to 19th in the second session. His time of 12.506 seconds left him 22nd overall.
Regardless, Seavey said there’s no pressure on him going into race day, aside from the pressure to win.
“The pressure to win is the same pressure that you have on you every time out as a driver, so the way I see it, this is no different from a normal race night for me,” Seavey noted. “Driving for a team like Keith’s, you should run up front and you need to run up front if you want to keep moving up the ladder.
“To go into the last race knowing that no one can beat us is pretty special and I just hope we can cap it off with one more victory.”
– Aside from Alex Schutte’s practice-leading lap from the opening round of practice on Wednesday, the scorecard was dominated by the two super teams in the sport, Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports and Clauson-Marshall Racing.
Between the two squads, they accounted for five of the top 10 spots in first practice and seven of the top eight positions in second practice.
– The third and final practice, which was originally scheduled to run prior to the 15-lap sprint car Dash for Cash on Wednesday night, was moved behind the dash due to the threat of rain.
That rain eventually hit midway through the final session, leading to its premature end. Colby Copeland was fastest in the abbreviated practice round.
– Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports has won the last four runnings of the Turkey Night Grand Prix, doing so with three different drivers.
Defending winner Christopher Bell is the only driver in that group to repeat, winning the race in both 2014 and 2017.
Tanner Thorson (2015) and Kyle Larson (2016) are also recent winners at Turkey Night in Kunz-prepared equipment.
– ARP has a $50,000 bonus on tap for any driver who can win both the sprint car and midget features on Thursday night. Among the eligible drivers are Seavey, Austin Liggett and Tyler Courtney, who won the Turkey Night sprint car feature one year ago.
– The flip count for the event sits at seven after the first day of competition, with six flips during the five West Coast 360 sprint car heats and one tip-over in midget practice.
All drivers climbed from their cars and were uninjured in the skirmishes.