The Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, as usual, delivered plenty of thrills and spills throughout its week-long schedule of events that took place inside the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. An intense qualifying process that saw literally hundreds of competitors vying for the 24 spots on the starting grid for the A-main, dozens of flips throughout the week, and a last lap pass between two of the sport’s biggest stars that ultimately decided who would walk away with the “Golden Driller” winner’s trophy from the main event highlighted the Midget Sprint Car racing action.
NASCAR stars Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson staged a thrilling battle that ended with the two banging bumper bars twice on the last lap as they fought their way through slower traffic. Bell eventually got the better of Larson to capture his third consecutive Chili Bowl Nationals victory.
The Saturday night portion of the show was broadcast live by MavTV and that network’s internet partner, Lucas Oil Racing TV.
This 33rd Annual Chili Bowl not only featured the NASCAR drivers mentioned above but also saw Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Alex Bowman, Justin Allgaier, and Chase Briscoe among the 2019 participants. Sprint Car aces such as Knoxville Nationals winner Brad Sweet, Rico Abreu, Daryn Pittman, and David Gravel were among several on hand. Reigning World 100 champ and former Chili Bowl winner Tim McCreadie was one those who represented the Dirt Late Model ranks along with young Midget Sprint Car rising star and 2018 ARCA Racing Series race winner Logan Seavey.
But the thing that truly sets the Chili Bowl apart from other racing events is not the star names, the indoor venue, or even the flip count. It’s the atmosphere. Even viewed from afar, it’s easy to see that there is something special going on in Tulsa when this week in January rolls around each year. The packed grandstands, the hundreds of racers on hand, the air of desperation among the competitors to make it into the A-main as the Saturday afternoon and evening “alphabet soup” preliminaries play out, and the anticipation leading up to the 55-lap main event make this a bucket-list type of event from many who love the sport of racing.
Certainly, Dirt Late Model racing has its share of race weekends such as this. Most of the crown jewel races, particularly events such as the Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury American Legion Speedway, the two Eldora Speedway races, and a host of others would absolutely qualify. Virtually anytime there are more cars than there are spots on the starting grid there is going to be that feeling of desperation that fills the air as the preliminaries wind down.
Unfortunately, some race events have lost this quality. The so-called ‘Bump Day’ during the final round of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 used to have that feel as well as the Thursday prior to the Daytona 500 when drivers were put to the test in the Twin 125 races just to make the show. This has also become true in many dirt races as qualifying has replaced heat racing as the primary means for setting starting lineups.
It’s always fun to be part of an event, not just a race. However, it seems as if there are getting to be fewer and fewer of those events as lowered car counts, charters, and major disparities among the equipment used by the competitors have watered down some forms of racing.
On the other hand, happenings such as the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals serve to remind us that there still some “events” held in the sport of auto racing.
Also, NASCAR and pavement racing fans can check out InsideCircleTrack.com for more racing content.