The 14th Annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals
The Chili Bowl is one of those races that brings out the best midget drivers from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri as well as the best from California, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Also, racers from the World of Outlaws, the Silver Crown Champ Cars, and NCRA Sprint Car ranks meet to do battle in this prestigious event. Drivers like Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, and A.J. Foyt learned their racing skills in the midget ranks back in the 1950s and 1960s. The latest breed of dirt oval specialists included Jason Lefler,Billy Boat , P J Jones and Tracy Hines. They were matched up with larger sprint car aces Sanmmy Swindell and Gary Wright. Midget stalwarts Dan Boorse, Donnie Lehman, Steve Knepper, and Tony Elliot all came down from the midwestern series in and around the Great Lakes region of the United States. West states midget racers were duly represented by top pros like Cory Kruseman, Casey Slocum, Keith Rauch, and Ricky Shelton. These guys represent the cream of the crop in modern midget racing and showed with the great professionalism, excellent sportsmanship, and accessibility to the fans. None of the pit areas are roped or closed off and the fans can mingle with the owners and drivers in the pits. I never heard anyone complain about a driver not wanting to sign autographs. Another well-known individual that raced was the president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tony George. George won his qualifier on Thursday night and started in the B-Main after crashing later. The track and traffic were not kind to George who slid into the pit entrance barriers in the B-Main and flipped the car. He escaped dazed but unhurt.
As far as the racing went, some of the big names struggled to come to grips with the changing track surface. The track would begin the evening damp and tacky, with excellent grip and would slowly progress during the qualifiers until a shiny blue groove was present at the entrance to the corners. A thick berm of loose dirt would form at the exit to the corners and all of the drivers would place the outside rear tire against this berm and power out of the corners. If they got the corner right the berm would hold the car and allow them to accelerate out of the corner. If the car jumped the berm things would get much more interesting. Jumping the berm usually results in a serious loss of speed as the car does not have the power to accelerate out of the thick loose dirt on the outside of the corner. On several occasions the cars would begin to spin and them flip dramatically as the wheel rim digs into the dirt. P.J. Jones was involved in one of these on Friday night that sent him hard into the catch fence. The car was destroyed and the motor seriously damaged. He looked pretty pale faced in the pits afterwards surveying the damage with his father and brother. Team Lawson did not have the time to fix the car before the next nights races and he was forced to withdraw. Billy Boat did not qualify for the A-Main after suffering setbacks in traffic related accidents during qualifying and was forced to withdraw and return to his IRL testing duties. Slammin' Sammy Swindell, veteran World of Outlaws champion, suffered similar luck with the traffic and was relegated to the C-Main. Saturday night saw him get it together and make the transfer positions necessary to enter the back of the A-Main. Qualifying for the Chili Bowl and most dirt oval races are not done the same way as other forms of motor racing. Random draws decide the qualifying heat order and the winners from the qualifying heats automatically make up the A-Main feature race. Then four positions are left open for other racers to advance through the lower Mains. The races started out Saturday night with two E-Main races and three drivers advanced from these to the back of the D-Main starting grid. To prove his skill and worthiness for the A-Main, Swindell passed everyone in the C-Main and B-Main to advance into the A-Main, passing 33 of some of the toughest competitors to turn a wheel on the bullring ovals of America. Jason Lefler, National Midget Champion and Driver of the Year, advanced from the B-Main as well after coming from the back of the field twice to take the lead.
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