Traditional Sprint Car FanSite

See You At The Races!!!

by Norm Bogan

The 19th annual edition of Chili Bowl had a number of significant occurrences.  First of all, winter weather conditions foiled efforts by fans to get directly to Tulsa.  There were those that were stranded at airports around the country due to snowy conditions and others who were able to break out of the snowbound airports only to discover that T-Town was closed due to ice on the runway.  Many tried to get closer to the center of activity, but were instead shunted off to Dallas, Memphis, Chicago, Little Rock and cities where there was no Midget Racing!

Most of the displaced fans arrived to view the Thursday evening program, however, a few were held up until Friday.  When all the fans were in place, they made up a record-breaking attendance of over 15,000 fans and 250 entries in the Expo Center.  Each night, the competitors would queue up for twelve heat races with starting positions determined by a pill draw, then two “B” Mains and the “A” Feature.  Points were accumulated for finishing position plus passing points.  The optimum objective was to start last and finish first, therefore gaining maximum points.  With the level of competition, this task was seldom accomplished.  Each night, the feature started straight up according to points with the top four finishers locking into Saturday’s “A” Feature.  The remaining racers would be gridded according to their accumulated points in one of the lesser features.  This is when the alphabet soup was brewed, with front-runners from each feature moving to the next higher level to tag the field.  The goal of all the back-markers was to continue to advance until they reached the Saturday “A” Feature.       

While racers from throughout the country enter this event, the cars they bring are unique to their particular club. This makes it easy with only a few rules on the cars, breeding experimentation on the part of car builders to innovate some tricks that will upstage their foes.  In past years, we have seen the frames twisted at odd angles and cars with aerodynamic sideboards and many efforts to enter a lightweight, but reliable car.  This year, three-time winning car owner, Andy Bondio created a real controversy, when he unveiled his car shod with a motorcycle wheel and tire on the left front.  With tongue in cheek, Andy and his pilot, Cory Kruseman claimed that this was an economy move on their part, since the moto cross tire could be purchased for only $35.  A number of prognosticators predicted that the wheel would collapse from the pounding on the track, but Bondio and Kruseman dispelled that notion as they claimed the Friday night feature and followed it up with the runner-up spot in the big Saturday event.

Wednesday found 2004 USAC Sprint Car Co-Rookie of the Year, Josh Ford grasping the brass ring with Chad DeSelle from Badger Midgets running second and World of Outlaws campaigner, Danny Lasoski filling out the top three.  Thursday’s trio was made up of Craftsman Truck driver and longtime USAC open-wheeler, Tracy Hines on top with USAC racer, Bud Kaeding second and NASCAR star, Tony Stewart in third.  Friday, USAC Sprint Car runner up, Cory Kruseman finished in front, completing the first test of the radical Bondio mount.  Multi-talented P.J. Jones, a veteran of NASCAR, Indy Cars, off-road racing and roots in the USAC Midgets, made an impressive run for second.  Claiming third was longtime USAC racer, Dave Darland.

On Saturday night after all the preliminary races had set the field for the fifty lap feature, Tracy Hines sat on the pole next to Josh Ford, with Cory Kruseman and P.J. Jones dogging them from the second row.  Tracy was on a mission to claim his first Chili Bowl title and also take his car owner, Wilke-Pak to a first victory for the longtime Chili Bowl participants.  Hines led all fifty laps and was never seriously challenged.  Kruseman brought the car with the “WHEEL” home in second, followed by Darland in another Wilke-Pak car.  Josh Ford settled for fourth and USAC Midget Champ, Bobby East completed the top five.

P.J. Jones, who indicated that he had not raced on dirt since the Chili Bowl, two years ago, gave a notable performance.  Casey Shuman ran well enough to transfer directly into the Saturday night feature.  Others, who fared well, were Pennsylvania racer, Ray Bull and East Coast Modified pilot, Tim McCreadie (son of Barefoot Bob).  New Zealander, Michael Pickens made a credible showing.  Randi Pankratz (Wally’s daughter) raced her Ford Focus Midget to a good result.  Some heroes that missed the apex were World of Outlaws icon, Steve Kinser and his son, Kraig, USAC Sprint Champ, Jay Drake, USAC/CRA Champ, Rip Williams and a couple of septuagenarians, Tom Bigelow and LeRoy Van Connet, who suffered a broken arm in hot laps on opening night.  Davy Ray and Critter Malone were unable to duplicate their successful outings from past years.   

Enough about the racing, lets talk about the happening.  Chili Bowl is more than a series of races it is the height of the winter social calendar.  With the exception of ice scrambles in Minnesota, this is the only game going.  Even reruns on Speed channel are at a minimum during this period.  Folks from the East and Midwest have not seen racing for several months and for those from out West, it has been five weeks since Turkey Night.  Now, they all congregate in the Tulsa Oil Expo and renew long time friendships, get all of the latest gossip, show pictures of their grandkids and become part of this crazy idea of a Midget Race in January.

Each year, a limited number of racers and fans are invited to visit the John Zink Ranch.  John Zink started his business supplying equipment to the growing Oklahoma oil industry.  As he amassed wealth in the early twentieth century, Zink invested in land.  His ranch today is 30,000 acres, with two large lakes providing 250 miles of shoreline.  Zink has set aside facilities on the ranch for scouting activities for both boys and girls.  With an interest in the Osage Indians, who were native to his land, Zink sought to preserve wildlife at his compound.  John Zink was also an avid auto-racing enthusiast, entering cars for years at the Indy 500, winning in 1956 and supporting many racing drivers and associations.  Chili Bowl promoter, Emmett Hahn was a dominant racer throughout the plains at the wheel of the John Zink “Trackburner Special”.

On display at the Zink Museum are a number of racecars from the Indy winner to off-road vehicles that raced in Mexico.  Hundreds of pictures of drivers and racecars line the walls.  There are many trophies and commendations received over the years of racing participation.  Arriving on a charter bus after about a 45 -minute ride from the Oil Expo, we were greeted by Jack Zink, who shook each attendees hand and thanked them for coming to share the Zink collection. 

A luncheon was served and special attendees were recognized.  On hand was Chris Economaki and racing hall of famers like Harold Leep, Benny Taylor, Billy Englehart, Bubby Jones and Jimmy Oskie.  What a pleasure to break bread with your heroes!  Also in attendance were movers and shakers from the community, who support the Chili Bowl, as well as a number of current and former car owners and mechanics, responsible for the history we were experiencing.

After this very enjoyable field trip, it was back to the Chili Bowl for updates on anything we may have missed.  Of course, there was the obligatory stroll through the pits and gathering the latest tales of excitement and woe.  Several racers would finalize plans for the year during this event and it is always fun to see one of your favorites secure a contract for the upcoming season.

Sunday morning finds a mass exodus of the crazed visitors, clad in colorful racing t-shirts and strings of beads shaped like red chilies.  Sanity would soon return to the Oklahoma capital.  Getting out of town proved to be much easier as the weather was clear and sunny with mild temperatures.  No ice or snow to hinder our travel.  The last rite performed by a large number of visitors was to secure their reservations for the 20th Annual Chili Bowl in January 2006.       






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