A real pain in the neck, but doable. And I'd make this a non-facing document and set it up on the master page.
I'd start with one circle, then click on it with the type on a path tool (cilci the triangle in the lower right of the text tool). Zoom in and use the direct select tool to adjust the inport and outport positions to the desired locations and set the length of the text on the circle.
Select the circle and use step and repeat to build the grid.
Click the outport of the first circle, then click in the path area of the second circle that has the text to link them. This should highlight the second circle and you should see the threading arrow inside the inport. Click the outport and continue thread the paths until the whole page is threaded.
I didn't have any luck with using auto-flow to just place my number list, so I selected my page and from the pages panel menu selected Override All Master Objects. Then I just selecet the text file and clicked the loaded cursor on the path or the first circle (without holding a modifier key). If you have more numbers than circles, add a page and repeat the master objects override, then pick up the overset from the last circle onthe previous page and click on a new circle. I didn't test , but it might work to add multiple pages first, do the overrides, then place the list holding the Alt/Opt key to leave the cursor loaded for each page.
wow thanks so much! that worked like a charm! it was tricky like you said. the text path had to be made for the correct amount of characters - then deleted the characters so it was blank and repeated that into the grid. then it was just a matter of linking each one like you said. this is an extremely useful function no question about it. I knew it could be done but it is like a trick of the trade i guess! thanks again!
I suspect you made more work for yourself than absolutley necessary. I would have made the path a bit longer than the longest string I expect (or even nearly the full circumference) and adjusted the position so that I could either work with left aligned text or center-aligned text. Extra length on the path should not be a problem if each number is on its own line in your number list file.
Sorry, for got to add that in many fonts different numerals use differnt amounts of space, so making the path too tight could cause the list to go into overset at the first number that won't fit.