Tanner Thorson turns mentoring racers into latest passion project

Following the successful debut of Tanner Thorson Racing at the Chili Bowl Nationals, the driver/owner is ready to take the next step.

Last week Thorson announced his desire to shepherd drivers through the midget ranks.

The 2016 USAC National Midget Car Series and 2021 Chili Bowl Nationals champion hopes to share his expertise and recipe for success through a driver development program.

“Over the last few years, I’ve had the reins to kind of do what I want and what I need but with a few restrictions,” Thorson said. “I’ve been able to save money while successfully building programs for me—but not really for me. For a while, I thought it was time to do my own deal.

“This is finally the right time to do it.”

Thorson put his plan into motion for the Chili Bowl Nationals. He fielded two cars in Tulsa—one for himself, the other for veteran Ace McCarthy. Thorson won his qualifying night feature. He finished second in the A Main on Saturday. McCarthy finished sixth in Friday’s qualifier and eighth in B Main 1 on Saturday—one position short of the feature. 

“We had a great Chili Bowl,” McCarthy said. “It was definitely heartbreaking, but looking back over the whole week—after really not racing over the last two years--it was definitely a good week. 

“There was nothing we could hang our head on. It was just with the lack of seat time we had, that's what it came down to.” 

What McCarthy missed in seat time, he didn’t lack in equipment. Although McCarthy has competed seven times in the January midget classic, he never experienced the level of confidence he held entering this year's event. From the moment he worked with Thorson to mount his seat in the car, McCarthy knew this outing would be different. 

“I've driven for a lot of good teams and a lot of different cars,” McCarthy said. “Normally, putting our seat in the car—sometimes that's at the track, sometimes it’s a five-minute, a 10-minute deal. I think it took us an hour and a half just to get the seat in the way he wanted it to be. 

“And just how precise he was, making sure I was comfortable, making sure our heel rises were on the right place, that our pedal was hitting the right way. From that side of it, just to get to the track, he's so particular. And there's a reason for it.”

By ensuring the comfort level, Thorson knows his drivers will perform at their best. Knowing Thorson’s investment in the cars—and the driver—McCarthy’s confidence was at an all-time high. 

“It was really a lot of fun,” McCarthy said. “It was something we talked about doing for a long time. I was kind of hesitant just knowing Tanner’s driving ability and his experience and setting the car up. I know it works for him, but you always kind of wonder, ‘Can he make it work for me, too?’  

“And he definitely proved that he could make it work for me, too. He adapted to my driving style and set the car up to suit my needs--not only just his needs. It was super impressive to watch Tanner do his thing, and I think it definitely showed with our results that he knows what he's doing.” 

Given Thorson’s attention to detail, he plans on keeping the operation small. In addition to running McCarthy in additional races this season, Thorson hopes to continue competing himself. The key is to not spread the team too thin. 

“This is going to be a building year,” Thorson said. “We started out with nothing but I have assembled a good little arsenal of stuff right now. This year, I want to be selective with my schedule and the drivers we choose to run with. I'm going to try to put some really good people in the car and see if we can go win some big races, too. 

“As a car owner, success with drivers in our equipment means as much as me winning. I need to show as a car owner and a crew chief that I can do it without just me being in the seat. So I'm working on trying to get additional people in cars. We’ve had great responses from our announcement.” 

At 26, Thorson believes he’s just hitting his peak behind the wheel. There are still challenges he’s looking to tackle as a driver—including winged sprint cars. After a short stint in NASCAR, Thorson's goal is to ultimately race with the World of Outlaws.

Offering a boutique experience will allow Thorson to balance both initiatives.

“I’m not finished racing by any means,” Thorson said. “There are still some races I want to run this year. I’m trying to launch this development program on a smaller scale. I don’t want to expand to the point where I’m running five cars every night. When I get to that point, then I won’t be racing anymore. 

“I feel like I’m just getting to my prime in racing. I still want to win races—but I still want to build a base to develop kids and help them be successful.”

Thorson hopes to grow the program to a point where he can recruit prospects at the grassroots level. He remembers his parent's ability to support his racing to a certain point before relying on the kindness of others.

“I think about the kids that had the ability, that are really, really good they don’t have the financial support to reach the next level,” Thorson said. “In a way, I was one of those kids. My parents did everything possible but without a benefactor like David Abreu, I would have never reached this level.

“So that’s my goal—to build a good little program for drivers to come through. Maybe the drivers reach the NASCAR ranks or decide to branch out into the dirt world. Either way, I want to help them reach their potential.”

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