This Week in Motorhead History: The Turkey Night Grand Prix
On Thanksgiving night in 1934, with no football on television, Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles played host to the then-emerging sport of midget auto racing, and the Turkey Night Grand Prix was born.
This Thanksgiving night, while most of America is under the influence of too much turkey and plopped in front of TV for the third NFL game of the day, the 75th Running of The Turkey Night Grand Prix will be taking place in southern California. Specifically, at the Perris Auto Speedway, southeast of Riverside.
It’s a Thanksgiving tradition that many in racing hold more dear than the turkey dinner. Bob Swanson was the winner of the 1934 event, and in the years since the Turkey Night Grand Prix has been won by such drivers as Bill Vukovich, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen, Mel Kenyon, and Tony Stewart.
In 1950, the Turkey Night Grand Prix was the last race run at Gilmore Stadium prior to the property being redeveloped as CBS Television City, and forty years later, in 1990, the Turkey Night Grand Prix was the last race run at Ascot Park in Gardena. For the past 25 years, the Turkey Night Grand Prix rotated among half a dozen tracks before settling in at Perris in 2012.
Through the years the Turkey Night Grand Prix has remained a contest for midget cars, today under the specifications of the United States Auto Club. The cars are clearly descended from those that raced in 1934, remaining small, single-seat open-wheel machines with a front-engine design – but the horsepower and speed have increased substantially through the decades.
This year the total prize money on the line is more than $31,000, making the Turkey Night Grand Prix one of the richest midget races of the year. The race distance is 98 laps, in honor of J.C Agajanian, who as a race car owner twice won the Indianapolis 500 with cars numbered 98 and who as a racing promoter organized the Turkey Night Grand Prix for many years.
For your author, the Turkey Night Grand Prix was a “someday” item until that last race at Ascot Park in 1990, when we forsook the turkey and flew from New York to LA for the race. It was a memorable night, with a stout field of competitors, an intense race won by the late Stan Fox, and the late Evel Kneivel sitting next to us.
Image top right selected from Wikipedia Commons.
Image bottom left selected from Wikipedia Commons.