By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Putnamville, Indiana (June 6, 2019)………There are comeback stories. And then there’s the Tanner Thorson comeback story from Thursday night’s third round of “Indiana Midget Week” from Lincoln Park Speedway.
With the wounds and scars still readily evident on his body after sustaining a broken left arm and right foot, a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung following a multi-car incident on Highway 99 in Modesto, Calif. in March of this year, the Minden, Nevada native delivered a performance that he said is “definitely one I’ll remember forever.” And is one that will certainly remembered by those who were there to witness it as well.
Thorson used the bottom to capture the lead with just four laps remaining, enduring attack after attack from Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Kyle Larson to earn his 13th career USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget victory, a dream scenario for the 2016 series champ in just his third race back since his injuries three months earlier.
“It’s a dream come true again, to be honest,” Thorson said. “I sat out for three months just wondering if I was going to be able to do it again. I’ve been having doubting feelings in my mind and I didn’t know if I was going to be okay to run. I knew I probably could’ve run; I would’ve just had to change my ways. Obviously, it’s hard to do that.”
Thorson appeared to be the same driver as before and, perhaps recharged, following Tuesday’s IMW opener at Montpelier and Wednesday’s race at Gas City where he finished 2nd and 5th, respectively. Thorson had an uphill battle to climb at Lincoln Park, having to start from the 15th position.
“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.”
These truths were not self-evident initially as he remained on the cusp of the top-ten for the first third of the 30-lapper before steadily moving his way through the top half of the field. Early on, it appeared series point leader Tyler Courtney and Thomas Meseraull were on point, running one-two in a pair of lucky sevens and quickly separating themselves from the rest in the opening laps.
The sevens weren’t so lucky entering turn one on lap five as Meseraull closed the gap on Courtney and the two made contact, sending Courtney into a spin and forcing Meseraull to stop, knocking them both out of contention for the victory. Meseraull eventually wound up 23rd while Courtney charged back through the pack to take an impressive 7th.
Montpelier winner Logan Seavey inherited the lead for the lap five restart, ringing the topside as Thomas put on the chase through the middle until the 11th lap when series Rookie of the Year contender Andrew Layser flipped between turns three and four, escaping injury.
On the ensuing restart, fifth-running Michael Pickens, who drove to victory during IMW at Lincoln Park in 2017, looped it between turns one and two. It was the second-straight night the Auckland, New Zealand midget racing star saw a front-running bid slip away.
Thomas stayed true to the middle and used a great drive off turn two to blast past defending champ Seavey on the 13th lap where he remained for the next several trips around the 5/16-mile dirt oval with a swarm behind him ready to attack with Seavey remaining close by and Thorson, plus Larson, digging low and high.
With seven laps remaining, Seavey fired the first shot that set forth a wild sequence of events that saw the lead change 13 unofficial times in a six-lap span.
First, on the 23rd lap, Thorson nudged his way past Thomas on the bottom of turn one. Thomas recovered to resume the point momentarily on the back straight. Seavey then fired his Bullet to the bottom of turn three to slide past Thomas. Thomas diamonded off midway through the corner and beat Seavey to the stripe just as Seavey dove low into one and up to the top past Thomas just as Thorson entered the frame on the bottom. Thomas proceeded to slither his way through the gap between Seavey and Thorson exiting turn two to reclaim the top spot. Seavey instantly reloaded and slid past Thomas entering turn three, but Thomas answered by sliding across the nose of Seavey off turn four. Seavey instantly turned left to throw another haymaker at Thomas at the start/finish line, but suddenly Thorson was there inside to make it three-wide at the line at the conclusion of lap 25.
Seavey chose the topside as Thomas shot down off the turn one banking to get a run that would propel him past Thorson midway down the back straightway and into turn three on the 26th circuit. Rinse and repeat, Thorson ably limboed underneath Thomas into turn one on lap 27, but Thomas counter-punched to get back by underneath exiting turn two. Thorson stayed in touch, and off turn four, surged past Thomas once again for the umpteenth time to nip him at the line by a wheel.
Just as soon as one might’ve thought Thorson had it covered, here arrived an orange streak ripping the high side with Kyle Larson in the seat. Larson used the momentum up top and appeared momentarily to have the edge with as quickly as he was erasing the gap coming to the white flag. Off turn four, however, Thomas slid up in front of Larson’s lane on the outside, stifling his charge momentarily as the two made contact while Thorson was a mere two car lengths ahead of them out front.
Larson gave it one last shot on the high line of one and two, but snagged the turn two cushion with the right rear, then landed on the left rear, sending him off the track in a pirouette and a couple of endos toward the billboard that prematurely ended his final IMW run of the week from which he walked away uninjured.
On the green-white-checker finish, Thorson got a strong jump to stretch his lead out to roughly six car lengths, allowing him to go relatively unchallenged the rest of the way while a tussle for second saw Seavey dive into three past Thomas on the final lap to snare second, while Jerry Coons, Jr. utilized the bottom to squeak past Thomas by a bumper for third at the line – his best finish since a third-place run at the Southern Illinois Center in 2017. Chris Windom rounded out the top-five.
The clean, yet hard racing between Thorson, Thomas and Larson was a thrill to witness from the outside and from within the cockpit as well, which Thorson attributes to the respect each of these drivers has for each other.
“I think a lot of it was knowing how they 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 day out.”
Contingency award winners Thursday night at Lincoln Park Speedway were Kyle Larson (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier), Jason McDougal (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Dave Darland (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Thomas Meseraull (AutoMeter Third Heat Winner), Jesse Colwell (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Tanner Thorson (ProSource Passing Master/KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Chad Boat (ProSource Hard Work Award), Holley Hollan (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Kyle Cummins (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer).