Eventual winner Tanner Thorson (#19T) and Emerson Axsom (#15) race side-by-side for the lead late in Thursday night's Chad McDaniel Memorial USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget feature at Solomon Valley Raceway. Lonnie Wheatley Photo
THORSON REIGNS IN USAC’S CHAD McDANIEL MEMORIAL AT SOLOMON VALLEY
By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Beloit, Kansas (July 15, 2021)………Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
After making three consecutive attempts that brought him closer and closer to the lead, Tanner Thorson’s diligence paid off when he slid past Emerson Axsom with just five laps remaining to score Thursday night’s Mid-America Midget Week victory in the 10th running of the Chad McDaniel Memorial at Solomon Valley Raceway in Beloit, Kansas.
Thorson’s third series win of the year was the 23rd in USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget competition, moving the Minden, Nevada native into the top-20 on the all-time list alongside Christopher Bell, Tom Bigelow, Pancho Carter, Tommy Copp, Kyle Larson, Kevin Olson and Billy Vukovich.
Most recently winning with the series on June 10 of this year during Indiana Midget Week at Lincoln Park Speedway, Thorson has endured somewhat of a rollercoaster ride of sorts in terms of his feature results this season. He went back to the basics at LPS after implementing some new ideas into his Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports/AME Electrical – The Healing Tree/Spike/Stanton SR-11x earlier in the year.
The back to the basics approach paid off once again Thursday night at Solomon Valley.
“Hopefully, we keep clicking off these wins,” Thorson exclaimed after his $4,000 triumph.
“I love midget racing, especially when we’re running good, obviously. I feel like I’ve learned all the tricks in the book as far as midget racing. Now it’s just a matter of keeping it simple.”
The simplified method worked initially, but following his June win, he had finished 8th, 19thand 11th in his three most recent series starts entering the night. During the month long break in the schedule between the conclusion of Indiana Midget Week and the start of Indiana Midget Week, Thorson went through every inch of the racecar with a fine-tooth comb to make sure he’d ascend back into his familiar spot as a prime contender.
“Everything was gone through over and over,” Thorson explained. “I squared the car about 20 times, just scratching my head, scaling, chassis dyno, you name it. I did everything in my power to get my car better and I think it shows.
On Tuesday at Red Dirt, a little bit was on my side as a driver, and not being comfortable,” Thorson continued. “I did a couple things in the cockpit to suit me. After my accident and due to wrecks that I’ve had in the past, I’m just not as flexible and can’t really fit in the cars and use the throttle and the brake as well as I used to be, I’d say. I built this car in one night and threw the seat in, so it wasn’t necessarily comfortable, and I was fighting other stuff. I never really had time to think about my cockpit and me inside of it. I got the motor running good, got the car working good, got my cockpit good, and now we’re good.”
Starting from the fifth position in the 23-car field, Thorson felt he was just hanging on, so to speak, during the early stages of the 30-lap feature while point leader and pole sitter Buddy Kofoid controlled the pace of the race up front for the first half of the event.
Fourth starting Cannon McIntosh was an early contender, clamping down, then sliding past Kofoid in the first turn on the eighth lap. A half-lap later, Kofoid returned the favor on the 1/4-mile dirt oval, powering under McIntosh to retake the position just as 23rd starting Thomas Meseraull found trouble, spinning backwards to a stop on the front straightaway with major damage to the left front of his racecar.
The incident knocked Meseraull out of the race, concluding what was a tumultuous night after earlier setting quick time in Fatheadz Eyewear Qualifying for just the third time in his career. While running second on the final corner of the final lap in the Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi-Feature, Meseraull got caught up with a spinning, lapped car, which caused him to flip and, subsequently, knocked him out of a transfer spot, and forced him to use a provisional.
On the ensuing restart, McIntosh found a hitch in his giddy-up in turn two, which opened the door for Emerson Axsom to slip by for the second position, followed shortly thereafter by Thorson who maneuvered his way into the third spot by McIntosh on lap 10, and finally cleared McIntosh for the spot on lap 12 after exchanging the position multiple times.
Reaching the halfway point, Kofoid remained the possessor of a full second lead over Axsom with Thorson in third and McIntosh and Kaylee Bryson challenging each other for fourth. On the 16th circuit, McIntosh attempted to slide into turn three and snag the position away from Bryson.
As the two came within close quarters of each other, Bryson became sideways atop the cushion, spinning sideways down the middle of the racetrack, right into the path of Tuesday’s Red Dirt winner, and teammate, Daison Pursley. The resulting contact knocked the front end out on Pursley, putting him out of the race. Meanwhile, Bryston restarted her race from the tail and, unfortunately, misfortune continued.
New fourth place in the running order Kevin Thomas Jr. locked up the brakes to avoid contact with another car as the accordion effect bunched up the field on the lap 16 restart between turns one and two, ending his undefeated 2-0 record in the Chad McDaniel Memorial following previous wins in 2015 and 2018 in his only two prior event starts. Thomas restarted and ultimately finished 13th.
Just one lap following the restart, Axsom put on the moves to matriculate his way into the race lead as he slid past racelong leader Kofoid in turn three and made the car stick as he tickled the edge of the turn four cushion with precision. Kofoid cut back under while Thorson took the bottom line off turn four to briefly make it a three-wide contest for the lead with Axsom securing the advantage by a hair at the line.
Thorson officially slotted in the second spot a lap later on the 18th go-around with Justin Grant 3rd. Meanwhile, Buddy Kofoid went Tom Petty free fallin’ all the way back to 7th in just a few short laps before gathering it up and driving back to an eventual 4th place result.
A stoppage on lap 23 took 4th running McIntosh officially out of contention as he hopped over the banking between turns one and two with just eight laps remaining. He’d finish out with a 16th place result for the evening.
The restart saw Thorson take run-after-run at Axsom for the lead, lining up his shot midway down the back straightaway by aiming the car straight to the bottom of turn three and sliding up to the top by the time he reached turn four. Shot one had him pull his front bumper right to Axsom’s tail tank. Shot two saw him pull to within a half-length. Shot three witnessed Thorson pull exactly wheel-to-wheel with Axsom before falling back into line for lap 26 when the persistence finally paid off.
“I just kept poking at him, poking at him and I was getting a little bit closer because I was driving it harder and harder into turn three,” Thorson explained. “With that being said, every time I drove it harder getting into three, he was actually pulling me a little bit down the back stretch. I knew I had to kind of shoot it off in there and I was hoping for him to mess up. He and Buddy were messing up every once in a while there on the top since it was really tricky to run and technical. I figured I gave him enough shots, and I figured he knew I was there. At that point, I was just going for it. I feel like I gave him enough warning shots that I was there - firing the rifles off in the air – just to let him know I was here.”
On the 26th lap, Thorson gave it one more shot, coming right toward Axsom as he performed a full-speed drift into turns three and four. As Thorson slid across Axsom’s front bumper, Axsom pitched the car sideways and lifted and pitched the car sideways as Thorson drove by and set sail toward another victory.
However, a lap 29 incident involving Chase Randall and Kaylee Bryson, while battling for 12th, sent Bryson flipping high in the sky down the front straightaway. She was oaky, and briskly walked her way from the front stretch to turn three to confront Randall for a brief chat. Bryson was finished for the night, finishing 20th while Randall took 12th.
The green-white-checkered finish resulted in no change at the front as Thorson held his ground throughout the final two circuits to become the newest first-time Chad McDaniel Memorial winner by a 0.339 second interval over Emerson Axsom, Justin Grant, Buddy Kofoid and Bryant Wiedeman, who equaled his best career USAC finish with a 5th.
Emerson Axsom (Franklin, Ind.) led nine laps but came up just shy of reaching USAC National Midget victory lane for the second time in his career in the Petry Motorsports/FK Rod Ends – Iron Born Studio/Bullet By Spike/Speedway Toyota.
“He gave me the option to lift,” Axsom recalled. “It was either lift or jump his right rear, which is just a good slider I guess. If I didn’t lift, I probably would’ve been the red. I got on the brakes hard there, and it just played out how it did. It wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t my fault, it was just kind of hard racing. I think we kind of gave one away there. We had a really fast racecar and, when we were racing for the lead, we passed Buddy and a lot of other fast racecars that aren’t easy to pass.”
For the third-straight series event, Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) finished inside the top-three in his RMS Racing/NOS Energy Drink – EnviroFab – Response Management Services/Spike/Speedway Toyota. After a 21st place qualifying run, Grant won his heat race, which elevated him to the ninth starting position in the feature where he proceeded to a finish of 3rd.
“I’ve been burying us pretty good in these features, so I’ve been having to take chunks when I can,” Grant admitted. “I had another awesome car and I got to the front plenty early to have a shot there. USAC Midgets are tough and it’s a lot of fun racing, though. It keeps you on your game and you have to drive hard. When you see an opening, you’ve got to try and drive through it.”
Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) gripped the wheel on a gripped up track and blasted from the 17th starting position to finish 7th in Tom Malloy/Trench Shoring – Rodela Specialty Fabrication/King/Ed Pink Toyota.
Daison Pursley's time of 2:32.00 in the Elliotts Custom Trailers & Carts Semi-Feature set a new 12-lap track record for USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget racing at Solomon Valley Raceway.