Tanner Thorson Makes Powerful Statement in Chili Bowl Prelim
Jan 13, 2023
The literal dust hadn’t even settled in the Tulsa Expo Center on Thursday night before the masses started to declare Tanner Thorson the favorite to go back-to-back on Championship Saturday in the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.
RMS Racing team owner Matt Estep seemed to say 'not so fast.'
And with ace driver Justin Grant set to go out on Friday, why wouldn’t Estep be ready to pump the brakes on any narrative about the anticipated favorites. After all, Grant is seeking his sixth Friday night victory in seven years and has amongst the best recent run of success in the Main Event as anyone over the past decade.
Grant finished runner-up to Kyle Larson in 2021 and the winner said the video board is the only thing that saved him from getting passed in the final laps. He finished third to Christopher Bell and Larson in 2019. He finished third in 2014. He has additional Main event appearances in 2016 and 2022.
Grant is one of the expected contenders, period.
But, it's been a mixed bag over the past several months to get to this point. Grant matched USAC Midget champion Buddy Kofoid every step of the way throughout the spring and summer but had a dreadful stretch in September and October that derailed his bid for the championship.
"We just lost our way a little bit," Grant said. "It wasn't mechanical. I just lost my way a little but on my set-up stuff and I made some mistakes as a driver too. It sounds so silly, but once you fall off a step, it's so hard to get that back."
But they got it back with podiums late in the season at Placerville and Merced, which was perfect timing as they got it all the way back for one of the biggest victories in their career, with the Turkey Night Grant Prix at Ventura Raceway.
"For me, Turkey Night was a big accomplishment, personally," Grant said. "Without that, it was going to be a tough December going towards Chili Bowl. We got our confidence back. We had the win at Haubstadt, but we really started to find our way out west."
Despite the optimism, Race of Champions didn’t go well with a ninth-place result, but it was a valuable lesson having that race before their prelim night.
"We just weren't very good," Grant said. "We hit on some things on the last little bit of outdoor races and wanted to try them indoors. The car didn’t like all of it, and it’s so different with the bigger rear tire and gearing but I think we did find some things that it did like too."
Conventional wisdom would state that in a year without Larson and Bell, that this offers Grant his best chance to pick up a Golden Driller from a mathematical standpoint, but he also agrees to an extent.
"Everyone at the team agrees that we’re in a good spot, and it might be a chance to capitalize," Grant said. "But at the same time, you have to be as good as ever when you walk into this building. And really, I think the stranglehold Christopher and Kyle had on this place was started to taper off a little bit.
"Things evolve and change and someone else hits on the right set-up for a couple of years so I still think we’re going to have to be as good as we would have to be as if they were here. We have to be on it."
Having won the USAC Sprint Car championship this year, alongside his 2020 Silver Crown championship, Grant has just two true remaining bucket list accomplishments remaining to execute on -- the Golden Driller and USAC Midget championship.
He’s back at RMS and with NOS Energy and is excited for these opportunities.
"We’re all good," Grant said on contract statuses. "We’re back with the Sprint Car, Crown Car and Midget. NOS is back and we’re really making a run at the Midget championship. That’s the last of the three for me and personally, it’s a really deal and priority."