The famed Turkey Night Grand Prix (TNGP) Midget Auto race is held annually on Thanksgiving night at various southern California race tracks since 1934 with very few interruptions. The race has brought out some of the greatest open-wheel drivers through the decades, primarily because it is held after other series have completed their season.
Winners of the race read like a Who’s Who of Midget and open-wheel racing. Johnnie Parsons, Bill Vukovich, A.J. Foyt, and Parnelli Jones have won the Turkey Night Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. A.J. Foyt has won the Turkey Night Grand Prix and the Daytona 500 as well.
Among the modern racing legends, Tony Stewart, Dave Darland, Kyle Larson, and Christopher Bell have chalked up wins at the annual event. Deceased stars Jason Leffler, Dave Steele, and Bryan Clauson also elevated the status of the race with TNGP wins in their shortened careers.
After 13 years of holding the event on asphalt at Irwindale, the Agajanian family moved the race back to dirt on the half-mile clay oval in Perris, California, for a four-year contract. Kyle Larson took the first win back on dirt in 2012. Fan-favorite Dave Darland followed the following year in 2013. In 2014, we were able to make the event and witness the coming of age of Christopher Bell.
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The 2014 TNGP
Going into the event, 34 Midgets were entered but two were scratched with mechanical problems during Wednesday night’s practice session. Chris Ennis’ #28 was pulled with engine troubles and the #5 car, driven by Danny Ebberts, dropped out with electrical problems.
Among the notable highlights of the 2014 TNGP, there were three female drivers competing in the field. Randi Pankratz – daughter of Wally Pankratz and grand-daughter of Hall of Famer Bob Prankratz – Veteran driver Shannon McQueen, and North Dakota driver Andee Beierle.
Up-and-coming NASCAR driver Kyle Larson, the TNGP winner in 2012, was back looking to repeat as a winner on Thanksgiving night. Chip Ganassi, Larson’s NASCAR car owner, had flown in to watch Kyle race, adding some extra importance to the event for the driver. Ganassi was rewarded with a show by his talented wheelman, but his eyes were certainly opened by the skill of Christopher Bell.
Christopher Bell was already a driver to watch coming into this race. He has already been picked out for racing stardom with many people calling him “the next Kyle Larson.” Larson and Bell were both driving for Keith Kunz Motorsports at the event. In 2014, Bell raced all 12 months, logging 106 races in 15 States, Australia, and New Zealand. He ended up winning 26 features, scored 56 top fives, and 70 top tens, with only one “Did Not Finish” (DNF). The 2014 TNGP was the highlight of his racing season.
The late Bryan Clauson was driving the #63 Joe Dooling/Rusty Kunz Midget, pitting next to the four-car team of Rusty Kunz’s brother, Keith Kunz. Earlier in the year, Clauson had won the Chili Bowl Nationals in a #63 Joe Dooling/Rusty Kunz Midget. He would return to the Indy 500 the next season and appeared to be well on his way to superstardom. Less than two years later, the world would lose Clauson to a fatal accident at Belleville High-Banks Speedway.
1. (2) #71 Christopher Bell; 2. (4) #56 Darren Hagen; 3. (13) #71K Kyle Larson; 4. (7) #5D Zach Daum, 5. (6) #97 Rico Abreu; 6. (1) #67 Tanner Thorson; 7. (10) #63 Bryan Clauson; 8. (8) #24 Tracy Hines; 9. (21) #17 Johnathon Henry; 10. (16) #17N Dave Darland; 11. (9) #4 Damion Gardner; 12. (14) #73 Trey Marcham; 13. (28) #52 Isaac Chapple; 14. (19) #28 Alex Schutte; 15. (17) #25 Jake Swanson; 16. (23) #71S Cody Swanson; 17. (27) #98 Jarid Blondel; 18. (18) #7 Shannon McQueen; 19. (22) #27 Nick Chivello; 20. (26) #8 Randi Pankratz; 21. (29) #5B Andee Beierle; 22. (11) #56X Kevin Thomas Jr.; 23. (5) #15X Chad Boat; 24. (15) #91T Tyler Thomas; 25. (3) #67Z Brad Sweet; 26. (12) #68 Ronnie Gardner; 27. (30) #39E Kyle Edwards; 28. (20) #57 Mike Spencer; 29. (25) #71T Ricky Shelton; 30. (24) #35 Scott Pierovich.