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
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
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
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.