Menifee, CA, December 21, 2022) At the 81st Annual Turkey Night Grand Prix at the Ventura Raceway on November 26th, Menifee, California’s Tommy Dunkel caught the eyes of many in the near-sellout crowd when he moved up from 22nd to finish 13th in the sprint car main event. Only two other drivers advanced more than Dunkel in the 30-lap race on the famous 1/5 mile track located on the beach at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.
To say that Dunkel’s performance was a surprise may have been an understatement. After all, it was only his fourth race since 2016. His last outing before Turkey Night took place on the same Ventura track at the end of October when he placed third in the VRA main event. However, the Turkey Night Grand Prix was a whole different story. The talent-laden field was comprised of 49 drivers from throughout the country. In addition, the affable racer was starting in the next to last row in the 23-car lineup. When you start that far back on the tight quarters of the Ventura Raceway, drivers are going to see some chaos in front of them. They hope they are not part of the free for all crashes that occasionally happen. Dunkel had two very close calls during the race. Fortunately, he deftly steered through both. The first of those instances came on the back straightaway on the second circuit. Five cars tangled in front of the immaculate Inland Rigging white #17 car. He went to the wide side of the track and narrowly missed being sucked into the bedlam.
With a packed house looking on at the track and thousands more around the world watching live on Flo Racing, Dunkel was still near the back of the field when the action resumed with 28-laps to go. He was 17th by the end of lap three and progressed one position higher on lap seven. Two go-rounds later, Dunkel’s reflexes were tested again. This time going into turn three, a car flipped wildly in front of him. Dunkel stayed glued to the bottom of the racetrack and was seemingly out of trouble. That is until a driver on the wide line had to take evasive action to avoid the flipping car. That driver flew to the bottom and banged wheels with Dunkel. Driving like a seasoned veteran, Dunkel stayed on the throttle and powered out of the potential mishap.
“There were a few close calls and real estate is limited at Ventura,” Dunkel commented after. “It is really tricky. I tried to not let the close calls rattle me. I tried to focus on running a good race and continuing to move forward. There were a lot of really fast guys there and I just tried to stay focused and hit my marks. It worked out well.”
Once the race resumed, Dunkel managed to stay away from the chaos and kept a steady pace. It paid dividends! He moved up to the 15th spot on lap 19. Two circuits later he nabbed one more spot. He stayed in 14th until the last lap when he took another step forward and came home with a hard-earned 13th-place finish.
“Growing up knowing what the Turkey Night Grand Prix meant, you hoped to be a part of it,” Dunkel said. “Just to make the show was a milestone for me. I just kind of went to get some good laps in for 2023. To do what we did in just making the main and then coming from 22nd up to 13th felt good. A great way to cap the season for me.”
At the previous night’s preliminary, Dunkel placed fifth in his 10-lap heat race and was eighth in his 12-lap qualifier. That placed him 33rd in points in the stellar 49-car field. Just to get into the finale, he had to perform well in his B main on Saturday night. The cards were stacked against the friendly driver in that brief 12-lap race. He was starting in the 11th position and he had to finish at least sixth or his Turkey Night Grand Prix was over. In what would prove to be the story of his night, he moved forward. He put his Shaver-powered Maxim Chassis through its paces and moved forward the required five spots to capture the sixth-place position and book his ticket into the biggest race of his life.
While Christmas and New Year are just around the corner, another holiday is coming up for racers from around the globe. The second week of January will be the 37th Annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The annual exhibition of speed and ability draws drivers from several different disciplines of racing including NASCAR, Indy Cars, World of Outlaws, NHRA Drag Racing, and of course midgets and sprint cars. Thus far more than 300 drivers have pre-entered the race and one of them is Tommy Dunkel. Full details on his participation in another one of racing’s “Crown Jewels” will be published after the holidays.
Dunkel would like to thank the following for making his racing efforts possible. Inland Rigging, Dunkel Farms, United Asset Sales, and Osborne Speed & Machine. If you or your company would like to join him for a full year of USAC Sprint Car competition in 2023, please give him a call or send an email to 951-901-5082 or mailto:TomDunkel@inlandrigging.com.