Traditional Sprint Car FanSite

See You At The Races!!!

by Norm Bogan

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 spelling bee.  

The entry list said, “two hundred-seventy racers with about 262 actually participating.  Over a quarter of the field were rookies, announced as seventy-one.  These 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 Friday night.

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 arm.

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 substitute.  Paul 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.     






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