KNOXVILLE, Iowa – Five months ago, Tanner Thorson didn’t know if he would ever race again, after a California highway accident left him with injuries that had the potential to derail his career.
Now, he’s culminating his comeback with an appearance at the biggest sprint car race in the world.
Thorson announced Sunday evening that he has joined forces with CJB Motorsports and will make his debut appearance at the NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals with the team Aug. 7-10.
The Minden, Nev., native will drive the No. 88 entry for CJB, with Maestro’s Classic, Bn3th, Yuba-Sutter Aviation, Walker Performance Filtration and Factory Kahne serving as major sponsors of the effort.
Thorson will be racing as a teammate to World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series regular Shane Stewart, who drives CJB’s primary No. 5 entry, at both the Capitani Classic and the Knoxville Nationals.
“This is something that we started working on a little while ago,” Thorson said. “I’ve been in contact with Barry (Jackson, CJB’s team manager) before and my crew chief out in California – Lee Lindgren – is pretty close with him and they seem to talk quite a bit. Barry’s stuff and CJB’s equipment … I feel like they’re one of the best out there and they’re a team that I wanted to be associated with somehow.
“We just started talking, and this deal came about,” Thorson added. “I’m really excited about it.”
The fact that he’ll have Stewart, a multi-time World of Outlaws winner and perennial frontrunner, as a resource during the biggest week in sprint car racing is something Thorson called “really valuable.
“Shane’s obviously had a lot of success at Knoxville and gets around there really well, so I’ll definitely be looking to lean on him a little bit and try to get a few secrets out of him,” Thorson added. “That will help a lot, but at the end of the day, we are all racers and all racing against one another, so I don’t expect him to give me everything he knows … but hopefully I can get enough to figure out the rest of what I need.
“Barry about won the Nationals with (David) Gravel two years ago too, before the motor gave up on them, so that gives me confidence in the equipment that we can go out and make some noise.”
Thorson first made a name for himself in midget racing, winning the 2016 USAC National Midget Series championship with Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports, but he’s focused more and more on his skills in winged sprint car racing over the past two years.
Most recently, Thorson drove for the Clyde Lamar-owned Tri-C Motorsports sprint car operation in California and on the West Coast, but Knoxville will mark his first race back in a winged sprint car since his highway accident in the spring.
“I’d like to say I’m a winged racer now,” noted Thorson, who won in his third start back in a midget during Indiana Midget Week. “Obviously, my history is in midget racing and that’s what I built my name up with, but I love winged sprint cars and the challenge they present. I feel like I’m a student of the sport, as well, and this is something I feel that I’m ready for.
“I have no laps around Knoxville, but I feel that with everyone at CJB around me, it’ll be a bit easier,” he continued. “All in all, I’m just excited to get back into a winged sprint car … not to mention to go to Knoxville.”
Knowing that he could just as easily have been left unable to race again after his highway accident, Thorson isn’t taking a big moment like this for granted.
He’s relishing the chance to complete his return to racing against the strongest field of sprint car drivers that the discipline has to offer.
“This, the Knoxville Nationals, is what it’s all about, right? I had my comeback in a midget, and I wanted to do the midget deal before I got back in a sprint car just because I’m so familiar with those cars and have a certain comfort level in them,” Thorson said. “I felt like that was the right way to go, but obviously now, I need to get back into the winged sprint cars. They’re one of the more fun things, I feel like, for me to drive and something that I enjoy a lot.
“You don’t want to go out to Knoxville and be out there with a team that’s not proven, because it’s the best drivers and cars in the world … so I feel like being chained in with an Outlaw team makes that aspect better and gives us a great chance to make the big show when we get down to it.”
Thorson will compete with Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports during Pennsylvania Midget Week before coming back west from the Keystone State to compete at Knoxville during the 410 Nationals.
He is tentatively scheduled to take the track during Wednesday’s BRANDT Qualifying Night.