PUTNAMVILLE, Ind. – Tanner Thorson’s stated goal when he agreed to make his racing comeback driving for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports during Indiana Midget Week was simple: win races.
Thursday night at Lincoln Park Speedway, three races removed from a three-month hiatus brought on by injuries sustained in a highway crash in early March, Thorson accomplished that mission with vigor.
The Minden, Nev., native charged through the field from 15th starting position to win his first NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series race of the season, coming out on top of a slider-fest for the ages against Logan Seavey and Kevin Thomas Jr. during the third round of Indiana Midget Week.
Thorson used a daring move to the bottom of turns three and four to edge Thomas out for the top spot on lap 27, taking command despite several attempts by Thomas and Kyle Larson to wrest the lead away.
From there, Thorson led the final five laps despite a green-white-checkered, overtime finish after Larson flipped in turn two on the white-flag lap, pushing the 30-lap main one lap beyond its scheduled distance.
That final restart was of no consequence to Thorson, however, as he beat Seavey to the finish line by nine tenths of a second for his 13th USAC national midget win – perhaps his most meaningful win ever.
“I’m back,” said Thorson in victory lane. “This is really emotional. Keith, Pete (Willoughby) and the guys gave me another opportunity and I can’t thank them enough. I didn’t know if I’d be able to race again after hurting my arm (in his March 4 crash). This was pretty awesome.
“Hats off to this whole team, Toyota and TRD.”
Though Thorson started outside the top 10 and took the first third of the race to cross that threshold, he knew in a hurry that he was going to have a shot at making some noise, even as Tyler Courtney jumped out to the lead early after passing polesitter Jerry Coons Jr. on the opening lap.
“I knew at about lap five that I had a car to win,” Thorson admitted. “When you know that in your mind, nothing can stop you at that point.”
Contact between Courtney and second-running Meseraull with four laps complete took both of them out of contention, as Courtney spun in turn one and Meseraull slowed to a stop along with him.
The leading pair was relegated to the rear of the field at that point, with Tuesday night winner Logan Seavey assuming the mantle as the new pace-setter while Thorson slowly started to inch forward.
Seavey nailed the next restart and pulled away to a lead of more than a second, but a lap-11 flip by rookie Andrew Layser closed the field back up to him and eventually led to a lead change, as Thomas threw a haymaker for the race lead in turn two that stuck when Seavey banged the cushion on lap 13.
At that point, Thorson had worked his way into the top five and was scrapping furiously with teammate and NASCAR star Kyle Larson for fourth. He got clear by halfway and took third place with 10 to go, slowly but surely bearing down on Thomas and Seavey as his car continued to gain speed.
A spin by Dillon Welch with seven laps left gave Thorson his opportunity and led to a thrilling climax.
With the lead changing 13 times in six laps, the front trio of Thomas, Seavey and Thorson engaged in a war of slide jobs that eventually saw them come across the line three-wide for the race lead with five to go, Thorson charging up the inside in the midst of the frenzy and looking like a man possessed.
Working the middle on lap 26 before shooting to the bottom the next time around, a punch-counterpunch sequence between Thomas and Thorson finally saw Thorson edge ahead at the start/finish line to take the official lead on lap 27, clearing himself moments later off the second turn.
It wasn’t quite over, however, as Larson finally injected himself into the fray coming to two to go, ripping the high side and appearing to have the best car among the frontrunners.
Larson’s epic charge was stifled, though, when he caught the cushion in turn two after the white flap and flipped wildly in a pirouetting tumble before coming to rest at the exit of the corner. The Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR driver was uninjured, climbed from his car quickly and walked away.
That left Thorson in command for a green-white-checkered finish, and he cruised home after that, beating Seavey to the stripe by .901 seconds for the victory in a tame ending to the furious scramble.
“It’s respect, and I think a lot of it was knowing how they (Thomas and Larson) race,” Thorson explained. “I’m good buddies with KT and Larson and I’ve raced with both of them for years. We’re going to be aggressive toward each other, but there’s also a lot of respect. I respect Kevin Thomas Jr. and Kyle Larson more than just about anybody in this pit.
“Those two people out of anybody are the ones that I would prefer to race with day in and day out.”
Thomas hung on to complete the podium behind Thorson and Seavey, with Coons finishing fourth in another Petry Motorsports Toyota and Chris Windom crossing the line in fifth.
Shane Golobic, Tyler Courtney, Jesse Colwell, Zach Daum and Jason McDougal closed out the top 10.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.