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Tanner Thorson Bringing His Vision to Life in 2023

The defending Chili Bowl Nationals winner debuts his own program this week in Tulsa.


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It was never going to be enough to simply win the Chili Bowl once for Tanner Thorson and it never is for the great ones.

But this is especially true for Thorson, the 26-year-old defending winner, who is notorious for his … let’s call it meticulous … approach to racing.

Or really, better stated in his own words, Thorson readily admits that he is a control freak.

And to that point, one year after winning the Golden Driller in his own car but out of the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports shop, Thorson and Ace McCarthy are racing this week entirely out of the Tanner Thorson Racing umbrella.

For the first time ever, and for better or worse, Thorson will answer to no one this week when it comes to his set-up choices, occasional risky R&D decisions or logistical approach. And who is going to argue with the Big Golden Man holding a Shovel now overlooking his inventory?

"Even though I have a Driller, I still put a lot of pressure on myself and maybe even more," Thorson told Racing America on Sunday. "Now, finally, I owned my own car last year and now I own the whole team so there's even more pressure that comes with that, right?"

To anyone that has followed his career, Thorson wanting to take on the extra responsibilities isn't a surprise, because it all comes back to that meticulous approach.

"I am finally doing what I've always wanted to do," Thorson said. "I've always wanted full reign over what we're going to do and when we're going to do it. That's something I have always lacked over the years.


"Listen, I'm a bit of a control freak. I like things done a certain way and if it's not done a certain kind of way, I'm not going to do it. I don’t mean that as a disrespect to any other car owner I have driven for. I have driven for a lot of great teams and they have certain ways they do things."

Thorson has his way too and it led him to the Golden Driller 12 months ago.

He hopes his way could lead to the same kind of success he sees directly across from him on the center pathway of the Tulsa Expo Center. That’s where, directly under the video board, resides the Keith Kunz Motorsports empire.

It’s an empire he participated in first-hand as a Toyota development driver back in the day.

"I'm not saying I can do exactly what Keith is doing but I would definitely like to grow and be able to mentor young drivers and launch careers the way he and Pete have," Thorson said.

"It's been a trying experience, and it's definitely not cheap trying to pay for all of this myself. We have a lot of great partners and supporters in Maestro and Ace McCarty running our other car with Armstrong Bank. We have a strong group of supporters around us and I can't wait to see what this year brings."

It took awhile for Thorson to really process that he won the Driller last year.

Sure, he looks up on occasion and sees the trophy and he recognizes that it’s something that happened, but it took reliving the achievement for it to feel real.

"Seeing all the videos from the grandstands, or the broadcast and hearing back the crowd, it was loud, and that made it feel real," Thorson said. "I feel like we've gained a lot of fans here the past few years with some strong runs and coming from the back.

"It finally sunk in six or seven months ago, like my wife would say 'I still can't believe it,' and I would say 'I can' but only because I know where we came from and what went into it. You dream about winning this race from the moment you sit in a Midget and it was a relief to win, but at the same time, there is just as much pressure to go back-to-back."

But Thorson has always thrived on the pressure, much of it self-created, because the alternative is complacency.

To wit, as if starting an expanded race team with visions of growing into a full-fledged development program wasn’t ambitious enough, Thorson also hopes to tackle some of the marquee big payday 410 Sprint Car races this summer too.

"I've been so consumed with the Midget program, that I haven't put all of that together yet, but I definitely want to," Thorson said. "We're going to race in Pennsylvania with Aaron Long some, the AL Drivelines No. 58, and that's part of this plan too.

"I'm excited to finally be able to jump around and do what I want to do without having a hold on myself and not having a hold on myself. It's fun. I'm excited. We have two really good race cars here and long-term, a lot of interest in being a part of what I'm trying to build, in that model of Keith and Pete.

"Ultimately, these cars could race three times this year of they could race 300. It all depends. We have a great structure and I can't wait to see what's build on it."

Photo: DB3