At first glance inside the River Spirit Expo Center, this is still the same Tanner Thorson you always thought you knew.
There is an underlying intensity that can be outright abrasive to those not within his various teams or immediate social circle. He’s wearing a ‘Lions not Sheep’ ballcap that perfectly represents his beliefs and convictions.
“I think I’m misread a lot,” Thorson said. “You might walk by and I might look mad or whatever, but I’m just that focused on what I’m doing.
“I believe my passion for this sport is beyond 99 percent of everyone else here, and that shows with all the success, setting up my own cars, and the focus it takes to do that.
“That’s just kind thing: Everyone has their own kinks, you know. I’m focused. I don’t walk around and socialize a lot, so I hear the abrasive thing a lot, but I also think I’m your best friend when you get to know me.”
Thorson still has a way of getting under your skin sometimes, too.
Earlier in the afternoon, the 24-year-old called out the Chili Bowl track groundskeepers on Twitter for not cutting a curb that met his standards.
You’re kidding me right
Brad ‘Gravel’ Chandler and Steve Hahn were still groaning about it after an exciting feature that appeared to show that they knew what they were doing after all.
Thorson is still brash and opinionated, but there appears to be something else at work if you look deeply enough. The 24-year-old surprised the dirt community over the holidays when he revealed that he had signed a deal with Dave Mac Motorsports.
Team owner David McIntosh believes he is getting Thorson at the start of something special.
“I can say this because we’re friends, but I’m not sure he was ready for us a few years ago when we first started to talk about it, and I’m not sure we were ready for him either,” McIntosh said.
“I can say now that we’re getting Tanner at the perfect time because he’s become the total package. In my opinion, he’s settled down not only on the racetrack, but off it too.”
A former Toyota Racing Development driver, Thorson has always boasted an impressive skillset but his public persona and lack of immediate success in a stock car resulted in his dismissal from the program by 2018. He refocused on Sprint Cars and Midgets where an incident changed his life … and nearly ended it, too.
Remarkably, for a guy that races in one of the most dangerous disciplines in motorsports, this wasn’t a crash that took place on the track, but rather one far away from it.
He had raced with the World of Outlaws on March 4, 2019 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track and was headed back to his California race shop when he was involved in an early morning collision on California Highway 99.
Behind the wheel of a Ford pickup carrying his trailer and Sprint Car, he drove into the back of a milk truck after everyone jammed their brakes, the contact sending his truck careening into two other cars. The damage was so severe that he needed to climb out of his sunroof when the truck became engulfed in flames.
The crash left Thorson in really bad shape.
He suffered a broken left arm and right foot, two broken ribs, a collapsed right lung and cracked sternum.
“I didn’t have much time for thinking when I was in that bed, I was so doped up,” Thorson said. “I cried more than anything. That crash took a toll on me, my family, everyone.”
He initially thought his racing days were over.
There was no sense of sensation in his left arm. Thorson says the doctors told his parents that he might not regain use of that hand ever again. Obviously, that would have made competitive racing an afterthought.
For the first time, Thorson was forced to consider who he was beyond a race car driver.
“It wasn’t a highlight by any means, but it spruced up my life a little bit,” Thorson said. “I was like, ‘wow,’ I could have died or my life as I knew it could have been over for the most part.
“I did grow up a little bit after that. I still make mistakes or do things that turns out certain ways, but I’m aware of how much you can grow from everything that happens. I was very fortunate and lucky. The good Lord was with me when I got in my wreck and was able to get me out of there.”
He carries the scars with him today, but the arm healed, and he was back winning races within three months after leaving the hospital. In total, he has won a dozen times since the incident and appears to be hitting his stride in advance of the 2021 Chili Bowl.
Thorson closed the 2020 season with three wins over the final two months driving for Tom Malloy and Jerome Rodela, which made it all the more surprising that he would switch teams after enjoying so much success.
He lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma these days and Dave Mac is based out of Tulsa, so it was just the perfect fit at the right time.
“My girlfriend and I are getting ready to start building a place and this is my stomping grounds now, so that was part of the decision-making process,” Thorson said. “I work at Smith Titanium during the week and every time I need to leave, I can leave.
“I need income rolling in so that helps too. I work here, I live here and now I can clock out and drive over to Dave Mac’s shop and work on my race car.”
It also helps that Dave Mac Motorsports has some of the best prepared Midgets in the discipline, too.
“It was important for me to work with (crew chief) Cody Cordell,” Thorson said. “We’re really close. They have Toyota engines and Spike chassis, and between that combination, all you need is the right set-up and driver that’s going to get it.”
Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell are entering their fifth year with a stranglehold over the Chili Bowl Main Event, but Thorson has become a popular pick in these parts to dethrone them on Saturday.
And why not.
He’s made the feature six years in a row and posted nothing but top-10s until a mechanical failure eliminated him from the pole last year.
“They are obviously very good,” Thorson said. “There’s no two ways about it. You can’t take that away from them. I feel like there are a lot of good cars this year and everyone is on their game.
“I was one of the handful of guys who beat Larson when he ran the midget this year and Bell, too. I know I can, and I’m planning it on it. We just have to be prepared for everything.”
A Golden Driller would be transformative for his career, of course.
“It would be everything,” Thorson said. “You see Larson and Bell and they have tears in their eyes when they win. It’s just such a big event to everyone that comes here. We’d all still come here if it paid $10,000 or a $100. It’s the biggest win of our careers no matter what.”
But even without it, Thorson hasn’t given up on returning to NASCAR in some capacity this season. Having joined forces with Dave Mac Motorsports, Thorson expects 2021 to be his renaissance.
“I want a race for a living,” Thorson said. “I mean, I don’t care what it is. I want to make a good living, have a comfortable life and support my family. I don’t need to be loaded by any means, but I am committed to doing whatever it takes to accomplish that dream.
“We’re working on some NASCAR stuff, and that’s something I hope to pick back up. But really, I just want to win in whatever I’m doing, and I’ll be happy.”
Source: Read Full Article