Looking back, ahead; Minden’s Thorson wins national title

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With the Formula One season finale at Abu Dhabi Sunday, the 2016 racing season is officially over. The drivers’ championship panned out as expected, with the Mercedes team finishing first and second in the race. Lewis Hamilton, in the lead, played a strategy game. He ran slowly, hoping Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen might catch and pass his teammate to give Hamilton the title. But Nico Rosberg maintained his second place to the finish and won the championship by five points. Rosberg joined his father, Keke, as the second father/son champions in F1. Graham and Damon Hill are the only others to accomplish the feat. Hamilton’s engine failure in Malaysia when he had a commanding lead was a huge factor in deciding the championship. But he finished strong, winning the final four races, giving him 10 season victories to Rosberg’s nine.


The 2017 F1 season may be a different ballgame. The technical regulations are changing dramatically, and whichever team can use the new specs to best advantage will have an edge going into the season. Mercedes is the probable leader, but both Ferrari and Red Bull were nipping at its heels in the latter part of 2016.


On Thursday NASCAR announced a new “entitlement sponsor” for 2017 and beyond. It’s said to be a multi-year contract, but neither the exact length nor the dollar amount of the transaction were disclosed. And the winner is (drum roll) Monster Energy, which also becomes the official energy drink of NASCAR. No title has been announced for the name of the series or the trophy. The term “Cup” has been around since the Winston Cup in 1970, but that may change. Although I don’t think they’ll rename it the Monster Energy Can.


Friday night NASCAR wrapped up Champions Week in Las Vegas with Jimmie Johnson receiving his seventh championship trophy in NASCAR’s premier division. Technically, it was his fifth Sprint Cup title to go with his two Nextel Cup championships. All of Dale Earnhardt’s seven trophies were Winston Cups, as were Jeff Gordon’s four. Richard Petty has five Winston Cups and two Grand National trophies. And Tony Stewart has a Winston Cup, a Nextel Cup, and a Sprint Cup in his trophy case.


Speaking of champions, Tanner Thorson, a 20 year old driver from Minden who has been racing for 16 of those years, is the newly crowned USAC National Midget champion. Thorson finished sixth to Kyle Larson at the season finale Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway, securing enough points to take the 2016 title. Four wins in the last eight races put him into the points lead. Larson also received his second National Midget Driver of the Year award. Thorson started out in a Box Stock Outlaw Kart at age 4, and I announced many of his early races at Thunder Bowl Speedway in Mound House.

He has gone onto race sprint cars, but his biggest success has been in Midgets. In addition to this year’s championship, 2015 was a big year for Thorson. He placed second in the standings, secured the owner’s championship for Keith Kunz Motorsports, and won his first National Midget Driver of the Year title. He also won the 2015 Turkey Night Grand Prix and scored his first wins in both a USAC Midget and a 410 sprint car. He was USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year in 2013 after winning multiple Outlaw Kart championships in 2011 and 2012. Remember the name — Tanner Thorson. I predict you’ll be hearing more from this young man in the near future.


NASCAR’s silly season is in full swing, with drivers jockeying for vacant seats, teams trading charters, and one manufacturer change. Major moves in the Cup series are: Ty Dillon to the No. 13 Germain Racing Geico Chevy; Erik Jones to Furniture Row Racing’s new No. 77 Toyota entry; Stewart-Haas Racing switching from Chevy to Ford; Tommy Baldwin Racing selling the No. 7 charter to the Leavine Family Racing for their No. 95 with Michael McDowell as full-time driver; and Greg Biffle out at Roush-Fenway Racing, which will only field two full-time entries for 2017.


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