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RACING SCENE – 2020 Chili Bowl in Hindsight

RACING SCENE – 2020 Chili Bowl in Hindsight


RACING SCENE Column – (2020 Chili Bowl in Hindsight) – By Tim Kennedy

Los Angeles, CA. – The 34th annual Tulsa Chili Bowl was another classic. Kyle Larson became a first-time A-main Saturday winner and earned his first coveted gold driller trophy in his 13th Chili Bowl and ninth start in Saturday's A-feature. Making his victory even sweeter was the fact he drove a midget he owns instead of one owned by Keith Kunz (KKM) his long-time midget car owner. The memorable first place battle between Kyle and his friendly rival and former teammate Christopher Bell reminded old-timers of USAC 1960s duels between A. J. Foyt and Mario Andretti.

Bell led the first 28 laps and finished a close second to Larson, who led the final 17 laps (L 39-55). Bell was trying to win his fourth consecutive Chili Bowl and tie four-time winner Kevin Swindell (2010-2013). Bell also switched rides in 2020 from KKM to Tucker-Boat Motorsports. Larson-Bell lead swapping duels each year in Tulsa are remisiscent of their slide-job, lead-swapping duels in the 2017-2018 USAC Turkey Night GPs in Ventura. Their on-track duels are worth the price of admission.

Larson became the 21st different Chili Bowl Saturday A-main winner in the 34th event at the indoor quarter-mile. The unique block-long oil industry exposition building houses the quarter-mile clay oval at one end of the building and all pits, race car haulers, and vendor booths in the rest of the building. It covers ten acres, is 450,000 square feet and seats 15,000.

Jubilant winner Larson told the live TV audience, “Sorry NASCAR and Daytona, but this is the biggest effing race I've ever won. I hope to win in Daytona in a few weeks, but this is badass.” It was redemption for losing the 2019 Chili Bowl Saturday 55-lap A-main on the last lap when Bell passed him in turn two and won his third consecutive CB. This time Kyle passed Bell on lap 39 and led the final 17 laps. He won by 0.831 over Bell.

The Chili Bowl has grown tremendously since I attended Chili Bowls five and six in 1991-92. Six past Chili Bowl champions raced in 2020. This year there were 360 midgets entered (including backup cars) and 343 raced during the six days of competition from January 13-18. Drivers came from 40 states and four foreign nations—Australia (three), Canada (one), England (one) and New Zealand (two). There were nine female drivers and 68 CB rookie drivers. There were 73 flips prior to Saturday's five televised races and four more in the C, B and A events for a new CB record of 77 that topped last year by two flips.

Leading states supplying Chili Bowl drivers this year were: Okla.-68, Calif.-50, and Ind.-23. Rather than list the 40 different home states of the 343 drivers it is easier to list the ten states that were not represented. They were: Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Utah and Virginia. The 24 drivers in Saturday's A-feature came from eight states as follows: Calif.-eight, Okla.-five, Ill. & Ind.-three each, and one each from Kan., Nev., Tenn. & Tex., plus one from New Zealand.

More than 50 USAC drivers raced, including national stars: R. Abreu, B. Bacon, J. Coons, Jr., T. Courtney, D. Darland, J. Grant, C.J. Leary, J. McDougal, T. Meseraull, L. Seavey, K. Thomas, Jr., T. Thorson, C. Windom, and Z. Wise. Three Indy 500 veterans—Conor Daly, & CB rookies James Davison and Santino Ferrucci—raced. WoO sprint car stars D. Schatz, B. Sweet, and S. Swindell were joined by D. Pittman and S. Hafertepe, Jr..

NASCAR national divisions sent Cup winners Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ryan Newman, (a CB rookie), Alex Bowman, K. Larson, J.J. Yeley plus Xfinity winners Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, C, Bell, and truck vet R. Abreu. So Cal-based USAC-CRA 410 sprint car drivers who raced in Tulsa this year were: Damion Gardner, Brody Roa, Jake Swanson, Matt Mitchell, and CB rookies Eddie Tayoya, Jr. and Austin Williams.

MAVTV Network deserves an A+ for live coverage of the Chili Bowl final five races. Host was Bob Dillner again in the role Dave DeSpain occupied two years ago before he retired. Announcer Ken Stout, analyst Rob Klepper and pit reporter Dave Argabright are knowledgeable, expert on-air talent. Telecasters made Saturday A-main winner predictions on air. Stout picked Larson, Knepper chose Thorson, Argabright named Abreu, and Dillner picked Bell. They finished first, DNF, fifth and second. The telecast ran three hours from 5:30 to 8:30 PT plus overtime to 9:16 pm PT for top three A-main interviews and final comments by broadcasters.

Larson drove a white No. 01 Larson Racing King/Speedway Toyota sponsored byLucas Oil owners Forrest and Charlotte Lucas, owners of MAVTV and sponsorsof the Chili Bowl annually. Larson won $10,000 that increased his midget racing first place winnings to more than $40,000 since mid-November 2019. He gave credit to his friend and No. 57 sprint car owner Paul Silva, also from California. BTW, there were too many black midgets as usual and that makes identifying cars on TV and at the track difficult.

Larson's wife, son Owen and young daughter, plus his sister and parents were present for the joyful victory lane and stage ceremonies in the infield in front of the turn three-four grandstand. His wife downed a can of beer on a challenge and son Owen collected and tossed confetti as Kyle happily held his daughter. It was gratifying to see a driver reach a long-held goal. The 55-lapper had two leaders and two lead changes.

PRELIMINARY RACING: Monday through Friday car counts were: 57, 76, 66, 73 and 70. Top two in 30-lap A-mains each night locked into Saturday's 55-lap feature. In order they were: Cannon McIntosh, 17, in his second CB, & Tyler Courtney, (two leaders & lead changes); K. Larson (led 30 laps) & Jonathan Beason; Rico Abreu & Colby Copeland (two leaders, one lead change); C. Bell & Thomas Meseraull (three leaders, two lead changes); Tanner Thorson & Ryan Bernal (four leaders, five lead changes). Michael Faccinto lost P. 2 Monday when his car owner withdrew his car over something he said when interviewed after the feature.

Hard Chargers: M-F hard chargers (and positions gained) were: Kevin Bayer (+11), Kaiden Brown (+14), Tyler Thomas (+12), Spencer Bayston (+ nine), and Chad Boespflug (+14). Tuesday night also had a 17-car Race of Champions won by C. Bell (84x) over R. Abreu (97). There were two leaders, one lead change. Hard charger in the RofC was Abreu (+ 12).

The A-feature started 24 and had 21 racing at the finish with 12 cars on the lead lap. Rookie of the Year was Californian Michael “Buddy” Kofoid, 18, in the KKM No. 67. He started 12th and finished seventh after winning the second 20-lap B-main. Another young rising star was Oklahoman Cannon McIntosh, 17, who started eighth and finished a strong third in his second Chili Bowl. He drove the Kunz KKM No. 71.

The A-main Saturday had most of the 24-car field (17 cars) from five teams.

  > KKM had four of his eight entries make the feature.

  > Tucker/Boat had three of six cars in the finale.

   > Matt Wood had three of five cars in the feature.

   > Clauson-Marshall put one of seven midgets (two were backup cars) into the feature.

   > Swindell Motorsports put two of two cars into the feature, as did the relatively new No. 19 team.

   > Alex Bowman had one of his two entries in Saturday's feature.

   > Zach Daum put one of two cars into the A-main.

   > Rusty Kunz had one of his three cars in Saturday's A.

   > Frank Manafort had one of four cars in the feature.

   > Scott Petry Motorsports had five drivers and surprisingly none transferred from B-mains.

Single car teams in the A-were: No. 1NZ, 01, 7A, 7x, 8T, and 52.

Talented USAC feature winning driver Chad Boat, from Phoenix, did not drive one of his six entries this year. He continued his role as team manager for the expanding team. His close friend C. Bell (84x), A. Reutzel (87), and C. Windom (89) made the A-main Saturday. Dillon Welch (81x) missed the A-main by one position in B # 2 and Gio Scelzi (84) missed the A Saturday by two positions in B # 2. Andrew Layser (82) was 13th in the second D-main.

On day six Saturday racing started at 10 am and ran 29 races called “alphabet soup” events. There were two each O, N, M, L, K, J, I, H, G, F, E and D mains completed before the three plus hours live MAVTV Network telecast. Two C and B mains and one A were shown nationally on the live MAVTV telecast. A new “pole shuffle” for the ten locked in Saturday A-main drivers was a good idea. It resembled four-car dashes at other tracks instead of two driver match races as in the past.

Lap distances from O through H mains were ten laps, with the first six finishers in each main advancing to the next corresponding main (# 1 or # 2). Races had a ten-minute time limit; only three races were shortened by the time limit. G mains were ten laps, but only the first five finishers in each advanced. F, E and D mains were 15-laps and also advanced only the first five finishers. The 20-car twin-C mains advanced the first five finishers to the corresponding B 20-lap mains, which sent the top seven finishers to the 24-car, 55-lap A.

Biggest movers (five mains) in the “alphabet soup” races O through D were:

  > Braydon Lynch (in his No. 1K sub-ride) O through K; he missed the J transfer by two positions.

   > Casey Shuman - K through G and he remarkably finished second after starting the J, I and H mains from P. 10. He missed transferring to the G by two positions.

   > Cale Conley (I through E); he missed transferring to the D by one position.

Also noteworthy: Andrew Felker charged from 19th starting spot to win D-main # 1. Then he started 16th and finished tenth in the 15-lap C # 1.

Chili Bowl rookie of the year awards started in 2004. Winners were (with Saturday finishes in parenthesis): Danny Stratton (A-7th), Michael Pickens (A-6th), Mike Goodman (A-17th), Donnie Rae Crawford (A-5th), Brad Sweet (B-11th), Shane Hmiel (B-7th), Brad Mosen (A-20th), Tyler Courtney (B-16th), Richard VanderWeerd (A-20th), D. J. Netto (B-17th), Parker Price-Miller (B-11th), Spenser Bayston (A-18th), Joe B. Miller (A-21st), Donny Schatz (B-7th), Gio Scelzi (A-24th), Zeb Wise (B-9th), and Buddy Kofoid (A-7th).

The 35th annual Chili Bowl dates are January 11-16, 2021.