VENTURA, Calif. – Each year, the Turkey Night Grand Prix presents a massively talented crop of drivers from top to bottom.
Among them are the rookies who arrive to stake their claim and make their initial mark on the crown jewel race which annually features USAC’s NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series and the USAC Western States Midget Series.
The 79th running of the Turkey Night Grand Prix takes place on Thursday, Nov. 28, at California’s Ventura Raceway, a fifth-mile beachside oval that serves as the final test of the year for drivers and crews alike.
Over the years, Don Basile Rookie of the Race honors at Turkey Night have been awarded to some of the most talented young racers in America.
A glance at the list reveals some of the top names from the sport over the past two decades: Kasey Kahne, Dave Steele, Bobby East, Kody Swanson, Kyle Larson, Tanner Thorson, Carson Macedo, Zeb Wise and, most recently, Jason McDougal in 2018.
The top Turkey Night rookies are a group of individuals who have made an impact in their first appearance at the prestigious race early in their careers, before going onto achieve big things within the racing world.
This year’s rookie lineup has its own share of drivers who are on the cusp of big things themselves, along with a number of drivers who’ve already established themselves as stars in their own disciplines outside of midget racing.
Gio Scelzi, a recent winner during the opening night of the Hangtown 100 at California’s Placerville Speedway is among those who have succeeded away from the midget ranks.
At just 17 years old, the Fresno, Calif., native has already become the youngest sprint car winner in the history of the World of Outlaws, Williams Grove Speedway and Knoxville Raceway, in addition to becoming the season’s 14th different winner in the NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series by reigning victorious in just his sixth career start.
Scelzi’s Tucker/Boat Motorsports teammate – two-time defending All Star Circuit of Champions titlist Aaron Reutzel – has, like Scelzi, won on the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series trail in 2019.
Reutzel recently made his first USAC midget start at Placerville, finishing 10th.
Collegeville, Pennsylvania’s Andrew Layser is the top rookie in USAC’s National Midget Series, with eight top-ten finishes in 24 starts for Clauson/Marshall Racing this year.
Meanwhile, Cannon McIntosh – like Scelzi – is one of the five first-time winners with the USAC national midgets this season, doing so back in March indoors at the Southern Illinois Center in DuQuoin.
Chase Johnson won the most recent USAC Western States Midget round at Ventura in October, his first career win with the series.
Ben Worth of Coalinga, Calif., joined Johnson as a first-time winner with the series in the opener at California’s Bakersfield Speedway back in April.
Johnson’s Penngrove, Calif., neighbor – Buddy Kofoid – attempted to make the Turkey Night field a year ago, but didn’t quite make the cut.
Kofoid is back again this year as one of eight cars out of the Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian stable, along with fellow Turkey Night rookie and 2017 USAC micro sprint champion Daison Pursley of Locust Grove, Okla.
Sydney, Australia’s Kaidon Brown is the 2018 Australian Speedcar Champion and won the New South Wales title in 2019.
The 18-year-old and recent high school graduate is one of two international drivers in the field and the only international rookie.
USAC midget practice and USAC West Coast Sprint Car Series action will kick off the Turkey Night festivities on Wednesday, Nov. 27. Action concludes Thursday night, Nov. 28, with the finales for the West Coast Sprints and the 98-lap main event for the national midgets.
Past Turkey Night Grand Prix Don Basile Rookies Of The Race
1998: Kasey Kahne
1999: Dave Steele
2000: Aaron Pollock
2001: Bobby East
2002: Jerome Rodela
2003: Ryan Durst
2004: Brad Loyet
2005: Kevin Swindell
2006: Kody Swanson
2007: Mike Murgoitio
2008: Nic Faas
2009: Levi Roberts
2010: Dalton Armstrong
2011: Kyle Larson
2012: Ryan Bernal
2013: Tanner Thorson
2014: Isaac Chapple
2015: Robert Dalby
2016: Carson Macedo
2017: Zeb Wise
2018: Jason McDougal