When the calendar rolled over to December it used to mean that at least two months of racing-related withdrawals were about to set in for most fans of motorsports. But as we know, that is hardly the case nowadays as various series races and special events are scheduled all throughout the year, including winter. And while most of those races take place in traditional outdoor settings, some move the action into climate-controlled venues for a little indoor competition.
Beginning on Thursday and running through Saturday, The Dome at the America’s Center in St. Louis will once again play host to three days of dirt racing that will feature Dirt Late Models, Open Wheel Modifieds, and Midget Sprint Cars in the Castrol Gateway Dirt Nationals. This event, promoted by Cody Sommer, first ran in 2016 and then played out over four consecutive years until it had to shelved in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dirt Late Model stars Scott Bloomquist, Bobby Pierce and Tyler Carpenter have earned glory in the previous races held not far from the famed Gateway Arch in Missouri. 2021 will mark the return of these races held inside the domed stadium that once served as home to the NFL’s St. Louis Rams before that franchise moved back to Los Angeles.
But the Gateway Dirt Nationals are not the only indoor races held annually during the winter months.
Perhaps the most prominent indoor racing happening in the country is the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals which are slated to take place from January 10th -15th inside the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa. These upcoming races that feature Midget Sprint Cars at the Oklahoma venue will mark the 36th year for this event.
NASCAR drivers Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson have combined to win the last five Chili Bowl Nationals main events.
But the thing is, I haven’t always been a fan of these indoor racing spectacles. At first, they just seemed too gimmicky, in my opinion, with overpowered race cars on tracks that were too small to accommodate that kind of muscle.
Former NASCAR driver and current NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty has described driving NASCAR Cup Series cars at the Bristol Motor Speedway to be akin to “flying jet fighters inside a gymnasium” and he was referring to cars on a half-mile track. For some time, I have considered indoor races such as the Gateway Nationals and the Chili Bowl to essentially be the embodiment of Petty’s statement. However, I have started to change my opinion.
I have come to realize that, just as maneuvering a race car of any type around a larger outdoor facility requires considerable skill, finding the fastest way around a smaller track that happens to be under a roof requires as much or more skill. And when numerous cars are on the same track at the same time, the skill and ability required is even greater.
It’s just a different type of skillset.
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A comparison I would offer is that of NASCAR races held on the two super speedways in Daytona and Talladega. Those two tracks are completely different animals from every other track on the circuit and the skillset required to race on them in no way reflects the skillset needed for Martinsville, Darlington or Charlotte. Still, the contests held on those two behemoths are points-paying races and a win there locks a driver into the NASCAR Playoffs or the next round just like a win at any other facility.
In that same light, racing successfully inside the St. Louis dome or the Tulsa Expo Center requires a skillset that may not resemble what is needed for Eldora or Fairbury but it is a skillset nonetheless. Furthermore, the money earned in the Gateway Nationals or the Chili Bowl is just as spendable and that from any other track. The trophy is just as worthy of display, if not more so, as is the case of the Golden Driller from Tulsa.
With all that said, I am looking forward to tuning in to FloRacing.com this weekend for the Castrol Gateway Dirt Nationals and in January to that same streaming service for the preliminary action then to MavTV for the Chili Bowl races.
And one great thing about indoor events, you don’t have to check the weather forecast leading up to race day.
Also, NASCAR and pavement racing fans can check out InsideCircleTrack.