Next week will mark the 37th edition of the annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals down in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is arguably the most prestigious USAC Midget event of the year. While the Driven To Save Lives BC 39 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is closing the gap, it’s still not yet on the level of battling for a Golden Driller.
This year, 367 drivers will attempt to join Midget lore.
Tanner Thorson is the defending race winner as he topped Christopher Bell in last year’s event.
Lack Of NASCAR Stars
Prior to Tanner Thorson’s victory last January, Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson had both combined to have won the Chili Bowl in 5 straight years before. Bell personally has a nice streak going of 5 Top-2 finishes in his last 6 Chili Bowl attempts including winning 7 straight Thursday night preliminary night events as well. He led the first 36 laps of last year’s race.
Larson has 3 Top-2 finishes in his last 4 tries including two wins in the last 3 at that. He won his preliminary night (Tuesday’s) in 4 of the last 5 years including 5 of the last 8 at that.
Neither are on this year’s entry-list.
Both have been vocal about the purse of this race, but Larson however, just welcomed the birth of a new child this past week. He’s trying to be less busy during this year’s offseason.
Larson has 13 Chili Bowl appearances including all but one since 2009. This is the first time since 2010 that Bell hasn’t been here too.
They’re not the only ones. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (12 appearances) and Justin Allgaier (13 appearances) also aren’t here. Neither is Chase Elliott or Ryan Newman.
Chase Briscoe and Alex Bowman though will be in Tulsa however leading the NASCAR contingency.
Preliminary Nights More Open Now… Or Is It?
Due to Bell and Larson skipping, it could open up more parity to the preliminary nights. Larson finished 2nd in last year’s Tuesday night A-Main but had 4 straight wins on that night prior including 5 in the last 8 years overall. Bell had 7 straight Thursday night wins himself.
Now, neither will be in Tulsa to dominate those nights next week.
We know Rico Abreu has a lock on Wednesday night’s (7 straight wins), but Monday, Tuesday and Friday is more wide open… Or is it?
Two-time defending National Midget Series champion, Buddy Kofoid, headlines the Tuesday night list. He won last year’s A-Main over Larson in fact. Prior to last January, Kofoid raced on Thursday nights in both 2020 and again in 2021 and finished 3rd and 2nd respectively in those A-Main’s. Last year he shifted to Tuesday and it paid off.
This will mark the first time since 2011 that Larson won’t race on Tuesday night.
Bell had raced every Thursday since 2014 with a win in all but one. Defending Chili Bowl winner, Tanner Thorson, finished 2nd to Bell on this night last year and is back on this night again this year. The three years prior, he raced on Friday night’s with finishes of 2nd, 1st and 4th respectively.
Turkey Night winner, Justin Grant, won last year’s Friday night preliminary A-Main which was his 5th win on that night in the last 6 years. He was 6th in 2020 but that was the year Thorson won.
That leaves just Monday open, but Cannon McIntosh has won 2 of the last 3 years on this night. Chris Windom joins him for his second foray into the opening night events. Windom has 4 top 3 finishes in his last 6 preliminary night features. Don’t sleep on Ryan Timms who takes over the No. 67 with KKM. Buddy Kofoid won the last two titles in that ride.
A sleeper to watch on Wednesday night’s battle with Abreu is Thomas Meseraull. He was 2nd on Thursday night’s preliminary night in 2020 and 2nd and 5th respectively on Tuesday night’s the last two years. His last Wednesday night preliminary night foray came in 2016 to where he finished 3rd.
Abreu’s Race To Lose? Sleepers Who Could Fill Larson, Bell Gap?
Over the last several years, this race has been dominated by Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Rico Abreu. 2 of the 3 aren’t here anymore. Does that slide this race into Abreu’s favor?
That trio had combined to have won 7 of the last 8 Chili Bowl’s and went 2-3-6 last year. They proved as recently as last January that you had better be damned near perfect to beat them. Larson (5 wins in 8 years) dominated the Tuesday night preliminary night. Bell (7 straight wins) dominated Thursday’s preliminary night. Abreu (7 straight wins) dominated Wednesday night. That always put them at the front of the A-Main on Saturday night.
That preliminary night dominance led them to being tough to pass. They finished 1-2 in 3 of the past 5 years at that too. The three-man tandem were also each in the top five in 2020 too and top 6 last year.
On top of that, they’ve combined to lead 236 out of the last 275 laps (86%) in the A-Main of the Chili Bowl.
Since 2018, outside of Larson, Bell and Abreu, only Logan Seavey and Tanner Thorson have each led a lap in the Chili Bowl’s A-Main. Seavey led the first 20 laps in 2019 before Bell and Larson took over from there and Thorson the final 19 laps a year ago.
Then, if you factor in the late great Bryan Clauson and you see further dominance. Larson, Bell, Abreu and Clauson combined to lead 86% (426-for-495) laps since 2014. Just Seavey (20 laps led in 2019), Thorson (19 laps in 2021), Justin Grant (25 laps led in 2017) and Caleb Armstrong (5 laps led in 2014) have led laps outside of this great foursome since 2014.
So who’s turn is next?
I’m starting with the last two national Midget Champions with the best shots.
Buddy Kofoid won the last two national championships with KKM and also finished seventh, 19th and fourth respectively in his three A-Main’s too.
What about 2020 Midget Champion Chris Windom. He has five top 10 finishes in nine Chili Bowl tries including a sixth place run in 2021. I also like his teammates of Jonathon Beeson (6th in 2020) and Mitchell Moles.
Cannon McIntosh has to be there too. He was third in 2020 and fourth in 2021. He’s been great on his preliminary night too.
I also like Justin Grant. He was runner-up in 2021 after being 23rd (2016), third (2017), seventh (2018) and third (2019). He’s won a preliminary night race on Friday night in five of the last six years too and coming off of a Turkey Night triumph.
Don’t discredit Tanner Thorson going back-to-back either. He has seven top 10’s in eight tries including a win last year, third in 2021 and four fourth place efforts (2015, 2017, 2018) prior.
Tanner Carrick (5th last year), Ryan Timms (taking over the 67-full-time now) and Dominic Gorden (won Stoops Pursuit Race at IMS last year) with KKM are likely the newcomers on the rise.
Logan Seavey is my last sleeper. He finished ninth in 2019, fourth in 2020 and 10th last year.
KKM Is Back
At one point, Keith Kunz Motorsports has had a stranglehold on Golden Driller’s. Their trophy case was getting tight and space being limited. The storied team had a five-year reign between 2015 and 2019 of winning this race every single year.
Then, Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell left. They went 1-2 away from KKM in 2020 and Larson triumphing again in 2021. Tanner Thorson beat Bell last year.
However, KKM has restocked and looks as good as they used to be again and eyeing an end to this three-year drought.
KKM had a ton of changeover between 2019 and 2020 due to that departure of Bell and Larson. 70% of their driver lineup for the 2021 race were teenagers. It’s down to 43% this year (6 of their 14).
Last year, they returned a cast of youngsters, but also retained Rico Abreu and brought back Bell. They finished 2-3 with them. Bell is out but Abreu is also back. So is two-time defending USAC National Midget Series champion, Buddy Kofoid who slides over to the 71 entry effectively replacing Bell. They headline a list of 14 total KKM drivers showing up to Tulsa next week.
Ryan Timms, Tom Harris, Gavan Boschelle and Kyle Spence each race on Monday. Kaylee Byrson and Maria Ede join Kofoid on Tuesday. Taylor Reimer and Cade Lewis join Abreu on Wednesday night. Dominic Gorden and Tanner Carrick will race on Wednesday with Bryant Wiedeman and Brenham Crouch on Friday.
Timms takes over the 67 for Kofoid and looks like the next great in a crop of drivers to come from KKM. The 16-year old hopes to be like predecessors like Larson, Bell and Kofoid in success in this ride. Dominic Gorden won the Stoops Pursuit Race as a 16-year old at IMS last August too.
One could make a strong case that Timms, Kofoid and Abreu would each win their preliminary nights on the first three nights of the week. Can they turn that into a Saturday night A-Main triumph?
Controversy has been averted this year. The Turn 1 videoboard has moved to Turn 2 which should help aid in better racing the competitors feel. In its past spot, the videobard was right in line with the drivers’ vision when existing Turn 4. It allowed the drivers ahead to know what moves the drivers behind would attempt on them which in turn, allowed them to run in lanes to hold off a fight from behind.
Drivers in the past have admitted to using it and Kyle Larson even went as far to say that not only did it help him win races in Tulsa, but he felt like the drivers were the only ones even watching it. He’s not wrong.
On a short dirt track, the fans in the stands are watching the action taking place in front of them. It’s moving too fast to watch a videoboard. The drivers were using it as an advantage for themselves.
Now, with it’s placement in Turn 2, they can’t…
How To Watch – FloRacing with coverage each night
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MAV TV Coverage For Saturday’s Night’s Main Event Starts at 10 p.m. ET
How It Works
It’s actually pretty simple, think of each night as you would a normal weeknight dirt show. You have hot laps, heat races and as many mains as it takes to get down to an A-Main feature. the top two finishers in each night’s A-Main get a guaranteed spot into Saturday’s main event, a 55 lap feature for Midget racing’s supremacy.
In theory, we could go to sleep Friday night with 10 drivers guaranteed in with 14 spots available for the remaining 353 drivers. Yes, you read that right. 367 drivers enter, hoping to snag one of the 24 spots to the A-Main on Saturday night.
24 will make it, 343 won’t. That’s what makes this event so difficult to win.
2023 Event Format
Qualifying Nights (Mon, Tues, Wed, Thur, Fri)
* Drivers draw for heat racing starting position at 2 p.m. at chalkboard each day
* The driver who draws lowest number will start on the pole of Heat 1, second lowest number on the pole of Heat 2, etc.
* Number of heats decided by number of cars – 7-10 cars per heat race (8 Laps)
* Advancement from heat race to features is based upon passing points earned in heat race and qualifying races. Passing points are based upon car starting position when the yellow light goes out prior to the initial start of the heat or qualifying race.
C Mains/Qualifying Races/B Mains/A Main
- The 40 drivers earning the most passing points advance to Four “A” Qualifying Races; drivers in passing points positions 41-68 will go to two C Main races. The two C Main races will have 16 cars 12 laps in length.
- The top four cars in each C Main race will advance to the back of the B Main races, going 15 laps. (Top four from first C Main to back of first B Main, top four from second C Main to back of second B main)
- The lineup of each “A” Qualifying race will include an inversion of six cars. The top 24 cars in passing points will make the inversion. (The top point driver will start on row 3 of the first qualifying race, the No. 2 driver on row 3 of the second qualifying race, etc.)
- The four qualifying races will have 10 cars each with the top 16 in combined passing points from the heats and Qualifying races advancing to the A Main.
- The balance of the cars (24) from the “A” qualifying races will advance to two 16 car B Mains. The top four in each B Main will advance to the A Main, going 30 laps.
- There will be 24 drivers in each Preliminary Night A Feature
- The top two drivers in the Preliminary A qualify for Saturday’s A Main.
Saturday Night Features
The lineup for the top 10 cars in the A feature will be determined through the Pizza Express Chili Bowl Pole Dash.
The five A feature winners will draw 1-5, followed by the five drivers who finished second drawing 6-10 to seed the Pole Dash.
POLE DASH PROCEDURE
- Each of the races will have four cars and be four laps.
- Preliminary Night Winners will draw for positions 1st – 5th, Runner up will draw 6th – 10th
- First Race will be drivers who draw 7th – 10th, lined up in that order. Top 2 will advance.
*Second Race, front row will be drivers who draw 5th & 6th, with the two drivers moving on from the first race in Row 2 (Winner inside, 2nd outside).
*Third Race front row will be drivers who draw 3rd & 4th, with the two drivers moving on from the second race in Row 2 (Winner inside, 2nd outside).
*Fourth Race front row will be drivers who draw 1st & 2nd, with the two drivers moving on from the third race in Row 2 (Winner inside, 2nd outside).
*Winner of the fourth race will earn the pole in Saturday’s A-Feature.
NOTE—ALL POSITIONS IN RACES OTHER THAN SATURDAY’S A MAIN WILL LINE UP UPON THE ORIGINAL DRAW OF THE WINNERS
PRIOR TO THE POLE DASH. Example-If the Friday winner draws number 1, the Wednesday winner draws number 2, Tuesday winner draws number 3, Thursday winner draws number 4,, and the Monday winner draws number 5, all positions in all races will be based on Friday first, Wednesday second, Tuesday third, Thursday fourth, and Monday fifth.
- Seven drivers will advance from each B main to the A for a total of 24 cars with Provisionals set aside for the defending Chili Bowl Champion and previous year’s VIROC Winner should they not transfer.
B Mains (20 Laps)
* There will be two B mains, with 20 drivers in each B main.
* Drivers finishing in their Preliminary A feature in position 3-8 will qualify for the B mains
* Five drivers will advance from each C main to the B mains (1st C to 1st B, 2nd C to 2nd B)
C Mains (15 Laps)
* There will be two C Mains, with 20 drivers in each C
* Drivers finishing in their Preliminary A feature positions 9-14 will qualify for the C mains
* Five drivers will advance from each D main to the C Mains
D Mains (15 Laps)
* There will be two D mains, with 20 drivers in each D
* Drivers finishing in their Preliminary A feature positions 15-20 will qualify for the D mains
* Five drivers will advance from each E main to the D mains
E Mains (15 Laps)
* There will be two E mains, with 20 drivers in each E
* Drivers finishing in their Preliminary night A features 21-24 and B features 5th will qualify for the E mains
* Five drivers will advance from each F main to the E mains
F Mains (15 Laps)
* There will be two F mains, with 20 drivers in each F
* Drivers finishing in their Preliminary night B features in positions 6-8 will qualify for the F mains
* Five drivers will advance from each G main to the F mains
G Mains (10 Laps)
* There will be two G mains, with 16 drivers in each G
* Drivers finishing in their Preliminary night B features in positions 9-10 will qualify for the G mains
* Five drivers will advance from each H main to the G mains
H Mains (10 Laps)
* There will be two H mains, with 16 drivers in each H
* Drivers finishing in their Preliminary night B features in positions 11-12 will qualify for the H mains
* Six drivers will advance from each I main to the H mains
I Mains (10 Laps)
* There will be two I mains, with 16 drivers in each I
* Drivers finishing in their Preliminary night B features in positions 13-14 will qualify for the I mains
* Six drivers will advance from each J main to the I mains
J Mains (10 Laps)
* There will be two J mains, with 16 drivers in each J
* Drivers finishing in their Preliminary night B features in positions 15-16 will qualify for the I mains
* Six drivers will advance from each K main to the I mains
K Mains (10 Laps)
* There will be two K mains, with 16 drivers in each K
* Drivers finishing in their Preliminary night C features in positions 5-6 will qualify for the K mains
* Six drivers will advance from each L main to the L mains
L Mains (10 Laps)
* There will be two L Mains, with 16 drivers in each L
* Drivers finishing in their Preliminary night C feature in position 7-8 will qualify for the L Mains
* Six drivers will advance from each M main to the L mains
M Mains (10 Laps)
* There will be two M Mains, with 16 drivers in each M
* Drivers finishing in C feature positions 9-10 will qualify for the M Mains
* Six drivers will advance from each N main to the M mains
N Mains (10 Laps)
* There will be two N Mains, with 16 drivers in each N
* Drivers finishing in C feature positions 11-12 will qualify for the N Mains
* Six drivers will advance from each O main to the N mains
O Mains (10 Laps)
* There will be two O Mains, with 16 drivers in each O
* Drivers finishing in D feature positions 3-4 will qualify for the O Mains.
*Six drivers will advance from each P Main to the O Mains
P&Q Mains (10 Laps)
*There will be two P Mains and possibly two Q Mains, with the number of drivers TBA in each.
*Drivers finishing in D feature positions 4 on back will qualify for these race, and lineup position will be determined by finish on qualifying night and number of cars.
Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals Champions:
Year – Driver (Owner)
2022 – Tanner Thorson (Reinbold Underwood Motorsports)
2021 – Kyle Larson (Kyle Larson Openwheel)
2020 – Kyle Larson (Kyle Larson Openwheel, LLC-Mike Larson)
2019 – Christopher Bell (Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian)
2018 – Christopher Bell (Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian)
2017 – Christopher Bell (Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian)
2016 – Rico Abreu (Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian)
2015 – Rico Abreu (Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian)
2014 – Bryan Clauson (Joe Dooling/Rusty Kunz/Curb Records)
2013 – Kevin Swindell (Swindell Motorsports/Curb Records)
2012 – Kevin Swindell (Swindell Motorsports/Curb Records)
2011 – Kevin Swindell (Swindell Motorsports/Curb Records)
2010 – Kevin Swindell (Swindell Motorsports/Curb Records)
2009 – Sammy Swindell (Swindell Motorsports/Curb Records)
2008 – Damion Gardner (Jason Leffler)
2007 – Tony Stewart (Tony Stewart Motorsports)
2006 – Tim McCreadie (Steve Smith)
2005 – Tracy Hines (Wilke – Pak)
2004 – Cory Kruseman (Andy Bondio)
2003 – Dan Boorse (Dan Boorse)
2002 – Tony Stewart (Keith Kunz)
2001 – Jay Drake (Keith Kunz)
2000 – Cory Kruseman (Andy Bondio)
1999 – Dan Boorse (Dan Boorse)
1998 – Sammy Swindell (Pete Willoughby)
1997 – Billy Boat (John Lawson)
1996 – Sammy Swindell (Rusty Kunz / Jay McKinnie)
1995 – Donnie Beechler (Zarounian Motorsports)
1994 – Andy Hillenburg (Keith Kunz / Rusty Kunz)
1993 – Dave Blaney (Ralph Potter)
1992 – Sammy Swindell (Dave Ellis)
1991 – Lealand McSpadden (Andy Bondio)
1990 – John Heydenreich (Tony Finley)
1989 – Sammy Swindell (Jack Runyon)
1988 – Scott Hatton (Jerry Hatton)
1987 – Rich Vogler (Bob Lowe)