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Caleb Armstrong Wins Turkey Night Grand Prix at Irwindale

Fri, 25 Nov 2011

A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones . . . Caleb Armstrong!

Twenty-year-old Armstrong from Newcastle, Ind., pulled away from the field after every restart of Thursday's 98-lap Turkey Night Grand Prix at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, Calif. to put his name on a long list of greats who have won the race since it started in 1934.

“I can't believe it,” Armstrong said after the checkered flag flew on the 98-lap main event for Mopar USAC National and Western Midgets. “I was just hanging on, I was getting' worn out.”

Armstrong didn't start from the pole, as that honor went to Cody Swanson, but Armstrong took the lead after the first of five caution periods and pulled steadily away from the field each time thereafter. So he certainly didn't look worn out.

“I was looking at the board, I seen Bryan behind me,” he said.

That was Bryan Clauson, who finished third on Turkey Night but won his second National Midget Championship in a row. Darren Hagen was second after a close fight with Clauson in the last eight laps, all run under green.

“We had to save the tires all night but we didn't have nothing for that No. 7,” said Hagen, who nonetheless finished the year as National Midget Pavement Champion.

Clauson, who won the race the last two years, had his hopes up for a while but finally knew he would have to settle for a podium finish, given Armstrong's strong run all evening.

“I felt we had the car to beat before that last yellow,” Clauson said. “Caleb and the guys had the car to beat there.”

Clauson's season title was one of several decided at Irwindale.

“Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war and that's what we did tonight,” Clauson said.

The Turkey Night Grand Prix first ran at Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles in 1934, and continued there, with an interruption for the war, until 1950 when Gilmore closed. The race was revived in 1955 and run at Ascot and several other SoCal tracks by promoter J.C. Agajanian, whose sons J.C. Jr. and Cary now run it. It's been at Irwindale since 1999.

Over the years the winners and near-winners have included some of the great names in racing: Bill Vukovich, Tony Bettenhausen, Foyt, Jones, Gary Bettenhausen, Rodger Ward and Mario Andretti. Modern stars also come out to Southern California to race on Thanksgiving. This year's Turkey Night saw NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jason Leffler on the scene, while J.J. Yeley, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart have all raced in it.

“It means a lot,” said Armstrong. “There's a lot of good names out there.”

By Mark Vaughn