By T.J. Buffenbarger
(January 18, 2020) — As the River Spirit Exposition Center empties out following the 34th Chili Bowl Nationals here are my final takeaways:
• The confetti had not started to fall from the rafters of the River Spirit Exposition Center following Saturday’s main event at the 34th Chili Bowl Nationals and my first reaction was excitement about the future.
If you look at most of the names in the top-10 finishing positions it is overflowing with immense, young talent. While a lot of names on that list are already or are destined to race in what is considered a higher form of motor sport. The great thing is most of them will come back to the Chili Bowl and other open wheel races around the country.
Who wouldn’t be excited knowing that at some point this summer there are opportunities to see Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Cannon McIntosh, Logan Seavey, Rico Abreu, Buddy Kofoid and others at their local dirt track?
To see this group of drivers that are well under 30 years of age performance at such a high level is incredible. We are in a special era right now with some wonderfully talented people behind the wheel.
• Of those young stars this year’s Chili Bowl served as Buddy Kofoid’s introduction to the national motor sports media. While Kofoid’s name is likely on lot of radars outside of the open wheel world, this was the first time many of the writers that don’t regularly cover midget and sprint car racing had the opportunity to see him in person.
• Every year I settle in with breakfast and coffee to watch the early mains at the Chili Bowl. I felt this year the races before the C-Main were better due to transferring more cars through the early mains. Several drivers were able to advance five mains throughout the afternoon, adding some intrigue to the afternoon program. With more positions available it seems to clean up some of the racing with drivers knowing they had some cushion while in a transfer spot further up in the field.
• I wouldn’t wish a family emergency and travel adventures that rival the movie Planes Trains, and Automobiles on Thomas Meseraull, it did add drama to the Saturday program. Meseraull is lucky to have a couple of great car owners for the race cars he drives, one of which is Matt Estep who was instrumental in getting Meseraull to Tulsa in time for Saturday’s finale. Having a police officer making sure Meseraull got to the Expo Center in time mixed with T-Mez’s big personality was one of the most memorable moments we will take away from the Saturday finale.
• In 2013 I returned to cover the Knoxville Nationals for the first time since 2003 due to my crazy ideal of being an announcer and building up my career in my daytime profession. I haven’t been to the Chili Bowl Nationals since 2001. Maybe 2021 is the right time to end another absence from one of the biggest events in motor sports.