Attending the Chili Bowl in January is much
like a religious experience. Zealous
disciples from throughout the country make the journey to
worship at the Altar of Clay in the Temple of Tulsa.
Each year, proselytizing efforts bring non-believers to
experience more than two hundred gladiators in a chariot race that
makes Ben Hur appear as a church social.
An oversized oilfield roughneck, known as the
Golden Driller, overwhelms new arrivals as he beckons them to come
inside. Passing through
the portals, the first time visitor is treated to the awesome sight
of ten and a half acres of floor space uninterrupted by support
posts. Located within
the walls is a racetrack, approximately a one-fifth mile oval, with
grandstands on three sides and enough area to park over two hundred
racecar trailers for pit activities.
In addition, a trade show is set up with booths catering to
racers and fans alike. There
are numerous T-Shirt vendors, various manufacturers of racing safety
equipment, representatives for several Halls of Fame and a number of
photo booths, selling both current hero photos and nostalgia
material from the past. Several
new racing books are offered for sale, along with racing jewelry and
an opportunity to purchase the latest in racing chassis.
Promoters Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards have
continued to develop this event over the past eighteen years, making
it better in each ensuing year.
Convening at the Tulsa Oil Expo, racers from throughout the
country come to challenge the best drivers in an indoor Midget race.
As the fields grew, it was necessary to add an extra night of
racing to qualify the additional entrants.
This year’s event was a four-day extravaganza with 208
entries in the building. The
first three nights found a group of around seventy cars staged to
vie for the eventual brass ring on Saturday night.
Because of the large field of cars, efficiency
is of the utmost importance. The
promoters have safety crews primed and working together to quickly
take care of any altercation and clear the track.
This prevents the fans from getting restless with long delays
and keeps the program on schedule.
As a completed race field clears the arena, the next group is
entering the battleground. Periodic
breaks for track maintenance allow the fans an opportunity for
restroom visits and a stop at the concession stand.
Fans arrive early in the day, as this is one
venue where the visitors are able to stroll through the pits and
visit with the drivers and crews up close and personal.
They can also make a pass through the trade show, maybe
picking up a t-shirt or some jewelry, a current book on auto racing
or maybe a poster or old photos.
Of the numerous vendors, most have event deals to clear their
last year’s stock out, before gearing up for the new season.
There are also a couple of auctions, which offer memorabilia,
nearly all autographed for collectors.
After this first go round, you may want to stop by the
concession stands for a hot dog or baked potato, ice cream dots or a
funnel cake. There is
something for everyone. After
a respite and with batteries recharged, this whole scenario repeats
with another pass through the pits and trade show.
Accessibility to the teams and drivers is a definite drawing
card for the multitudes that generally only see the action from afar
in the stands.
On Wednesday, Danny Lasoski, Davey Ray, Dan
Boorse and Steve Buckwalter advanced to the Big Dance, while
Thursday’s finishers were Jason Leffler, Scott Hatton, Tracy Hines
and Tony Stewart. Friday’s cast consisted of Jerry Coons Jr., Cory Kruseman,
Josh Wise and Danny Ebberts. These
cars filled the front half of Saturday’s A Main.
A famous driver and an unknown rookie
accomplished two spectacular drives on Saturday night.
J.J. Yeley was knocked out in a lap three incident of his
“B” Main on Thursday. Starting
fourth in an “F” Main, J.J. advanced up through the alphabet to
secure sixteenth starting position in the “A” Feature.
Watching Yeley maneuver through traffic, much of the time
with his front end looking heavenward, gave the fans an idea why
famed Manzanita announcer, Windy McDonald had coined the nickname of
“Johnny Three Wheel” for J.J.
This Andy Bondio #47x creation was in an event of its own.
The car ran low, then high, drifting to mid-track and
splitting between two other racers. Yeley’s quest for redemption brought him to a third place
The other outstanding performance was by
Californian, Danny Stratton, a rookie, driving his own car with one
nearly duplicated Yeley’s effort as he came from the “D” Main
to finish seventh in the Big Show.
Yeley moved up seventy-two positions, while Stratton claimed
claimed the Best Passing Award and Stratton garnered Rookie of the
Race honors, just rewards for both drivers.
Andy Bondio just happened to have another car
in the field, the #47 driven by Cory Kruseman.
This is the same car that Lealand McSpadden took to victory
in 1991 and Kruseman brought home first in 2000.
With all the high dollar competition among engine
manufacturers, the two Bondio cars ran engines developed by John
Barnes. The head on
Cory’s car was fabricated in 1983.
At the start of the “A” Main, Leffler
jumped into the lead for three laps, before Lasoski assumed the
point. On lap 25, Kruseman passed the Dude and extended his lead on
long runs, while much dicing was going on in the front pack.
Kruseman claimed his second Chili Bowl title, with Lasoski in
second, Yeley to third, Stewart in fourth, Leffler in fifth, Boorse
was sixth and Stratton came home in seventh.
When asked if he had anything for Cory, the
Dude responded, I was leading the race and he passed me.
Danny also commented that he passed on the World of Outlaws
tour of Australia, so he would be available for the Chili Bowl, a
race he desperately wants to win after his third runner-up finish.
Kruseman was running in New Zealand and made a twenty-two
hour flight to be in Tulsa. Savoring
his win, Cory returned to New Zealand on Monday.
In the afterglow of the event, there had been a
mass baptism of converts on Saturday night.
Nearly every newcomer vowed to return next year and can’t
understand what took them so long to “See the Light”.