For the past several years the entry list has
continued to swell and the Tulsa Oil Expo has changed its
complexion. Gone is the
basketball court set aside for the competitors to challenge the ball
handling skills of their fellow racers.
Gone are the VIP Motor Homes, relegated to an outside parking
lot to accommodate the increasing field of racecars.
Gone are lines at the ticket booth to purchase ducats for the
event. Chili Bowl is
now sold out by early fall. Attendees without tickets must negotiate with the myriad of
sellers at the front door, trying to recoup monies spent on a friend
who cancelled at the last minute.
Other components of the changing progression
are the broad spectrum of participants these days.
In the early years, this event catered to the strong cadre of
midget drivers from around the country, coming from local hotbeds in
Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Arizona, California, Texas, New
England and the upper Atlantic Seaboard.
As the Chili Bowl gained prestige, other open wheel racers
began arranging for midget rides to vie for the Midwinter rewards
available at Tulsa.
After a number of these midget drivers made the
transition to NASCAR, this gave the opportunity for them to return
to their roots. Stock
car racers from regional series around the nation soon discovered
this to be an ideal way to test their open wheel skills.
Drag racers also found this event to be a welcome relief
valve from their pressurized schedules during the year.
Two other facts became apparent. What had been the venue of grizzled old men; suddenly saw
more distaff drivers, some with pretty impressive credentials.
Secondly, the field, which had consisted of post high school
racers, was met with what appeared to be a breakout from the
competitor’s nursery. Rosy-cheeked
youngsters have invaded the arena once reserved for seasoned
veterans. These kids
appeared to have been hijacked from a school bus on its way to a
The entry list said, “two hundred-seventy
racers with about 262 actually participating.
Over a quarter of the field were rookies, announced as
entries went from a couple of thirteen year-olds, like Chad Boat to
septuagenarians like Tom Bigelow and LeRoy Van Connet.
NASCAR’s open wheel stars on hand included
current Nextel Cup Champ, Tony Stewart, along with Kasey Kahne,
Jason Leffler and J.J. Yeley. NHRA
dragsters in attendance were Cruz and Frank Pedregon, along with a
number of open wheel champs in the mix.
King of the Outlaws, Steve Kinser, joined four-time Chili
Bowl Champ, Sammy Swindell and his son Kevin.
Outlaws Danny Lasoski and Paul McMahan and Josh Wise, USAC
National Midget Champ, Levi Jones, USAC National Sprint Champ,
Damion Gardner, USAC/CRA Champion and Chad Kemenah from the All Star
Circuit of Champions were all in the field.
Some of the youngsters performed well with
Darren Hagen, Alan Ballard, R.J. Johnson, Brady Bacon and others all
scoring high in preliminary events.
On Wednesday of the 20th Annual
Chili Bowl, eighty cars were set for action.
An early scratch for the evening was Tony Stewart, who did
about three endos during hot laps and damaged the car enough to not
be able to stage for the night’s show and was rescheduled for
Danny Lasoski, the Outlaw from Missouri, scored
another preliminary victory in his quest to take home the “Golden
Driller” trophy. Accompanying
Danny as the top four transferring to the Saturday “A” Main was
“King of The Outlaws”, Steve Kinser from Indiana, USAC racer
Jerry Coons Jr. from Arizona and New Yorker, Tim McCreadie from the
Modified and Late Model ranks.
A stellar field of drivers and cars staged for
the Thursday night show and veteran USAC campaigner, Jay Drake
claimed his heat, his “A” Main Qualifier and the Thursday prelim
show. Joining Jay, now
living in Indiana, as transfers to the Saturday “A” Main was
another USAC vet, fellow Hoosier, Jon Stanbrough, USAC Western
States Midget pilot, California’s Garrett Hansen and ARDC regular,
Steve Buckwalter from Pennsylvania.
Friday night completed the preliminary shows
with two-time Chili Bowl champ, California’s Cory Kruseman driving
the “wheel car” once again to the front.
Parnelli’s kid, P.J. Jones, a veteran of both Indy Cars and
NASCAR finished a strong second, not bad for a guy that races
midgets on dirt only at the Chili Bowl.
Washington’s Kasey Kahne, one more of those NASCAR guys,
claimed the show spot with four-time Chili Bowl Champ, Sammy
Swindell making the final transfer.
Tony Stewart took another tumble in his ride on
Friday and was transported to the hospital with a possible broken
Steve Kinser had to be one of the most cordial
celebrities on hand, posing for photos and signing autographs and
seeming to genuinely enjoy himself. Tim
McCreadie noted that their midget setup was similar to what they ran
in the East Coast Modifieds.
On Thursday, Jay Drake claimed he was
undefeated for the year after his sweep on the preliminary night.
It was somewhat ironic that both Drake and second place
Stanbrough are both without rides for the year after campaigning for
over a decade on the USAC National front.
Jay acknowledged his long time association with Keith Kunz,
who has stuck with him through thick and thin over the years.
Friday night, Sammy Swindell reminisced about
how in the old days you might have had ten cars capable of winning,
while now you could have fifty.
Kasey Kahne said he expects to return until someday he claims
the Golden Driller Trophy and P.J. Jones felt that he had a good
car, but was a little rusty at dirt track racing.
Last year, you may recall Cory running a motorcycle wheel
right up on the inside berm, but tonight the top seemed better and
he kept the car up high for the win, although P.J. found something
fast on the bottom.
Early on Saturday, most teams began putting the
finishing touches on their racecars, while others seemed at ease.
A humorous event happened in the Keith Kunz pit area.
Kristian MacDonald is a nineteen-year-old fabricator for Kunz
and the designated jester to keep Keith and Pete Willoughby amused.
Kristian, affectionately known as Yogi to the team, slipped
on one of Jay Drake’s fire suits, then climbed into Steve
Kinser’s car and started emulating the King by chain smoking and
hollering up to Keith and Pete that the foot box needed to be fixed.
Steve was standing off to the side and breaking up laughing.
Soon the Kunz gang had made arrangements with Stewart’s
Crew Chief, Bobby Barth to have Yogi set in Tony Stewart’s car and
adjust the belts. This led to an interview with D.O. Laycock and Robin Miller,
when Yogi claimed to be a substitute driver who was called at the
last minute in Mexico to fill in for Stewart.
MacDonald complained of delayed flights causing him to arrive
late. Soon, the Hooters
girls arrived to have a photo op with the recently arrived
McMahan took Kristian out to walk the track, followed by the Parade
of the States, although it is somewhat questionable what group he
marched with. One of
the female drivers came to the Kunz compound and wanted to exchange
collector cards with MacDonald.
While Yogi didn’t have a card, he did give an autograph and
possibly a phone number.
Now, it was serious time as the preliminary
events were about to get underway.
With two races at each level from “K” through “E”
Mains transferring four qualifiers to the next higher level, where
they would start in the rear of the field.
The “D” Mains transferred three cars to each of the
“C” Mains, which in turn transferred five cars to each of the
“B” Mains and finally the top six from each “B” started
behind the twelve cars, which had transferred directly to the
Saturday “A” Main from the preliminary night features.
Twenty-four cars staged to vie for this
year’s Golden Driller. The
front twelve cars represented seven Chili Bowl victories.
Jay Drake led most of the way with Kruseman keeping pace.
Late in the race, Tim McCreadie who started tenth joined the
mix picking off cars and advancing to challenge Drake.
Finally, he was able to overtake Jay and raced home the last
couple of laps to his first Midget victory.
Drake held on to second with Kruseman third and Brad Kuhn
moving up to fourth.
McCreadie acknowledged that he was able to
obtain a top rate car with the help of Greg Wilke and Steve Smith. Finishing ninth as a rookie last year in one of Donnie
Lehman’s cars gave him the confidence that he could race with
these guys and likened the feel of the Midget to be similar to the
dirt Modifieds he has wheeled for several years.
Tim acknowledged his Dad, legendary “Barefoot Bob”
McCreadie, who has prepped him well over the years, both with
driving techniques and racecar setups.
Well the 20th Annual Chili Bowl is
now history. As the
crowd was searching the parking lot for their car, the staff was
already at work removing the dirt track surface and grandstands.
The competitors began loading up and making their escape from
this now cavernous building, along with the many vendors in the
trade show area. In a
couple of days, this will once again be a big empty building.
Kudos go to those behind the scenes people that dedicate
themselves to this event and make it the great happening that it has
become. The Chili Bowl
staff strives to fill the needs of the competitors, fans, vendors
and media. Pencil in
your day planner now for the 2007 version of Chili Bowl.