The world’s largest indoor Midget Sprint Car race is set to be contested from January 10 through January 15 on the 1/5 mile Tulsa Expo Raceway, a dirt oval fashioned inside the SageNet Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Already a record number of 388 entries(as of Jan. 3) have been received by event organizers for the 36th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
Not only will the best Midget drivers and teams be among those in competition but many of the top racing drivers in the world from all forms of motorsports are expected to take part, including several stars from the ranks of NASCAR.
Five days of preliminary action will take place from Monday through Friday with the 55-lap A-Feature due to roll off on Saturday night. That race will follow the so-called “Alphabet Soup” qualifying races held earlier that day for those drivers not already locked into the main event by way of their preliminary results.
Among that record number of entrants, as is typically the case, will several stars from NASCAR. Two Cup Series champions, a Daytona 500 winner, multiple race winners, and other regular contenders at all levels of NASCAR will be a part of a stellar field throughout the week-long event.
NASCAR aces Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell have had a strangle hold on the Chili Bowl Nationals A-Main for the past five years. Bell was the winner in 2017, 2018 and 2019 while the reigning Cup champion hoisted the coveted Golden Driller trophy in both 2020 and 2021.
Prior to the dominance of those two drivers, another NASCAR champion, Tony Stewart, had claimed two Chili Bowl Nationals checkered flags by winning in 2002 and 2007.
In this year’s version of the race, Larson and Bell will be joined by 2020 Cup Series titlist Chase Elliott along with 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year Chase Briscoe. Larson and Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate and four-time Cup series race winner in 2021 Alex Bowman will also be on hand. As a matter of fact, Bowman was so eager to be a part of the event that his was the first entry received by event officials.
Ryan Newman, who won the Daytona 500 in 2008, will be making another Chili Bowl run along with two-time Cup Series race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular and the 2020 victor of the pavement Late Model crown jewel Winchester 400, Carson Hocevar, will enter the fray as well as part-time truck racer J.J. Yeley.
Some of those drivers mentioned above will have to adjust their Chili Bowl schedules accordingly as NASCAR has scheduled two days of testing for its Next Gen car on January 11th & 12th at the Daytona International Speedway.
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Kasey Kahne, who won a total of 18 NASCAR Cup Series races over the course of his career and is now a full-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car driver, is entered in the Tulsa extravaganza. Another interesting entrant is the 2019 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and part-time NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Santino Ferrucci.
But it isn’t just NASCAR stars who will be on hand to challenge the best Midget racers in the world. Reigning Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion and 2006 Chili Bowl Nationals winner Tim McCreadie will try for another Golden Driller. Multiple-time WoO Sprint Cars champs Donny Schatz and Brad Sweet are among those entered as well as numerous others from the top levels of Sprint Car racing.
It isn’t just current and former NASCAR stars who have achieved big things in the Chili Bowl. Attention garnered from this race can also lead to future opportunities. Rico Abreu won here in 2015 and 2016 which helped him land a full-time ride in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2016 resulting in top-5 finishes at the Eldora Speedway as well as the Talladega Super Speedway.
The name of the cars competing in this race may imply smallness, but make no mistake, this is on of the most coveted victories any racer can achieve. The list of entrants indicates that.
Race fans do not have to be inside the SageNet Center to enjoy the racing action. All preliminary events will be shown live by FloRacing.com with Saturday’s main event being aired live on MavTV and MavTV Plus.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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