MONTPELIER, Ind. – Tanner Thorson looked like a man who was just glad to be getting back on his horse as he traversed the pit area during Tuesday night’s Indiana Midget Week opener at Montpelier Motor Speedway.
Thorson was making his first start back in a race car in three months, after a March highway accident in Modesto, Calif., sidelined him with serious injuries that put continuing in the sport he loves in doubt.
Not only was it his first race back in 92 days, it was also his first start with Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports – the team Thorson won the 2016 USAC national midget title with – in nearly two years.
Though he made his comeback a successful one, with a runner-up finish to defending NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series champion and KKM teammate Logan Seavey, Thorson was quick to note that climbing behind the wheel and immediately running right at the level expected of him again wasn’t as simple as it may have appeared on the surface.
“To come right back out of the box and perform like we did on Tuesday night is absolutely a big deal for me. It’s a reminder that we know how to do this and that I can still perform at that level,” Thorson told SPEED SPORT. “The last three months have been really hard on me. It’s something that I’ve never shared with anyone, really, but after the accident and getting hurt like I was … I didn’t know if (racing) was going to be the same, or if I was even going to be able to continue to do it.
“With the way that my arms bend in the car, how my foot was hurt an everything that I went through, there were a lot of unknowns that we had to get through to get back to this point,” he continued. “Everything’s worked out really well though, and I feel good. Thank God I got a call from Keith (Kunz) and Pete (Willoughby) to come back and do this, because it’s like family here and I’m glad to be back.”
Thorson’s first stint with the Kunz/Curb-Agajanian team was wildly successful, building Thorson into a top prospect in the racing industry as he notched six wins, 10 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 19 races en route to the title.
The Minden, Nev., native also led a series-high 180 laps that season as well.
However, following a disappointing 2017 season that saw Thorson drop to fourth in points and only pick up two USAC-sanctioned victories, the two sides went their separate ways.
Thorson headed out west to California and linked up with veteran team owner Clyde Lamar’s Tri-C Motorsports operation, learning from crew chief Lee Lindgren for a while and building and wrenching on many of his race cars himself.
He also spent a portion of 2018 in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, racing for Young’s Motorsports as a part of the Team Dillon Management family.
But eventually, through an up-and-down start to the season with Tri-C and his accident while heading home from a World of Outlaws event in Las Vegas, Thorson’s racing road led him back to the place where his journey began.
“I got my start here with these guys. Coming back to their shop again, it really was like coming home to family,” Thorson noted. “We just picked up right where we left off the last time I ran for them, too. It was as seamless as you can hope for as a driver. It was bittersweet, to finish second in our first race back together, but it’s something that I’m going to take with me as motivation into the next race to run even harder than I did the first time out.
“I pushed myself as hard as I could, but there’s still more to go; I’m just trying to take it easy a bit and get my boundaries right again.”
While he now appears to be just as good as he was before he got hurt – having recovered from a broken right foot, fractured left arm, cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung – Thorson admitted that he’s simply grateful to have another chance to participate in the sport he grew up loving as a kid.
That opportunity, and not just his positive performance on Tuesday, is the true joy according to Thorson.
“Being out for three months is hard. Everyone says it’s like riding a bike, which it is, but you lose your finesse a bit,” Thorson noted of spending time away and recovering. “With my left arm and right foot being the two things I use the most in the car, I had to make sure that all that would be right when I got back in and got going again, and so far it has been.
“I just can’t thank this team enough,” he added. “I’m blessed to be alive and healed up from my injuries, I’m blessed that Keith and Pete trusted me and wanted me to come back and drive their cars and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week with them. It’s special to be a part of and to be racing again.”