ANOTHER TAKE ON TURKEY NIGHT
Here are two unique looks at a different side of a long-time LA tradition

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Another Take on “Turkey Night”
Here are two unique looks at a different side of a long-time LA tradition
Harold and Mirinda Osmer, in their own words:

For seventeen years now I’ve been making the Turkey Night event program. I make all decisions on the design and layout, the placement of all images and text, and then oversee printing and sales. That’s the nuts and bolts part of my job at Turkey Night.


This year’s striking effort, another sold out souvenir edition from the Osmer family…

With my two daughters both done with college, this was the first time in several years we’ve had the whole family on hand for the two-day affair at Ventura Raceway. The girls have grown up with Turkey Night. It’s what we do on Thanksgiving. The process is clear and straight forward. Place the EZ-Up, tables, and hang some lights and banners. Diane and Leana complete the table setup while Mirinda and I roam the pits.

We like the pits because that’s where the people are. These are people who do things as opposed to talking. Many have come from across the country while others are local. We had a good talk with local car owner Jerome Rodela and an equally satisfying visit with driver Maria Cofer from way up by the Oregon border. Others came in from Indiana, Oklahoma, and Missouri.

Racing people share a bond forged of competitive spirit, can-do attitude, and no nonsense. What most of us see is the trailers and equipment all set up. Less apparent is that someone had to drive that thing to the track. Then someone has to feed the team and prepare the car. Then someone has to go as fast as they can on a small dirt oval track alongside twenty others who are certain that you are occupying the very spot they desire.

Racing has always been a game of haves and have nots. There will always be someone who can bring more resources via money, personnel, and equipment. Yet roughly 100 racecars showed up to compete in sprint car and midget races. This year was the 77th running of the Turkey Night Grand Prix and still they come. Tracking the history of the event is akin to tracking the history of Los Angeles itself, let alone auto racing history.

In terms of venue numbers, more auto racing has taken place in Southern California than any other place in the world. That in a city/region of many millions of people only a very small fraction of them ever get to an auto race astounds me. But that’s the nature of auto racers in general. They’d prefer people showed up to watch, but the crowd is secondary once the green flag flies. Racing people do things. They don’t require an audience or an sort of army of imaginary electronic friends.

Racing allows for a variety of ways to play along. I’m a C- racecar driver (Troy Ruttman, on the other hand, was … and by the way, I did not produce this TNGP program from 1948). I’m not much better as a mechanic. But I do make a good program. That’s how my family participates every Thanksgiving. It’s what We do.

(That’s how motorsports author/historian/publisher Harold Osmer spends Thanksgiving night and the month leading up to it. Harold’s a little camera shy… but we did catch a shot of Mirinda hard at work on her version of Thanksgiving family fun.)

And now here’s how Harold’s daughter Mirinda (who has been attending Turkey Night almost since birth) sees the event and their family’s involvement in the classic race:

“What did you do for Thanksgiving?” It’s a common question this week … but something of a challenge for me to answer. I never know what teams are playing football; I never know what’s for dinner; I never sit at a dinner table. Our family tradition is unique to Southern California. This is my thanksgiving: Turkey Night.

This year Turkey Night began in early November. As Turkey Night is an automotive racing event and none in my family have that skillset, we contribute through the design and sales of the event’s official souvenir program. My dad handles the ads, driver lists, layout, and printing. The rest of the family constitutes the sales team. We have been making the program for the past 17 years (Turkey Night is in its 77th running). This year, I joined the design team, adding a custom crossword puzzle that features past winners.

In recent years, the event has expanded to two nights of racing with two different divisions, sprint cars and midget cars. On Wednesday, the larger sprint cars take the stage. Thursday hosts both a sprint car main event and the show stopping midget race. We show up early and leave late on both days. Before the front gates open, my dad and I walk through the pits selling prorams. We set up our tables and then wander through the pits again.

When in the pits, my dad likes to check and see if the cars he put in the program are here, and then likes to show them that they’ve been published.

When the front gates open, one of the sales team members stands at the entrance selling. We rotate who stands there and who guards the booth. I chose entrance for both front door openings, occasionally calling out “Programs!” to the raceway guests.


Here’s a photo flashback to 2001 and the enthusiastic Osmer sales team on the job as usual.

After the crowd dies down, we wander through the stands and watch the show … Fast cars, flying dirt, and about 2,500 of our closest racing friends. How else would the Osmers spend Thanksgiving?

How else indeed! – ED.

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