From Lonnie Wheatley
TULSA, Okla. — December. Temperatures are dipping and the trees are bare in most parts of the nation.
Worse yet, at least for those many afflicted with that incurable passion for auto racing, the soothing sounds of radically souped-up engines screaming beyond comprehensible rev limits are few and far between, virtually silent for the time being in anticipation of the eventual whoosh of Santa’s reindeer-powered sleigh.
There is an upside to the temporary silence of dirt tracks around the country though, as the Holiday season doesn’t truly conclude until the final checkered flag has flown upon the best of America’s Bowl events. It means that the premier auto racing event of the year, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, is little more than a month away.
Closing in on that quarter of a century mark, the 24th edition of the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals is slated for January 12-16, 2010, at the QuikTrip Center’s Tulsa Expo Raceway at the Tulsa State Fairgrounds.
A tradition that started humbly enough as a two-day show that attracted 52 competitors and perhaps a handful or two more than 52 spectators in 1987 has evolved, if not mushroomed, into a worldwide showcase event that draws nearly 300 competitors and packs the spacious QuikTrip Center full of frenzied fans from around the world for five straight nights after a Monday afternoon practice session that whets the appetites of the most dedicated Chili Bowlers.
Competing in the ranks of the mighty Midget race cars atop the ¼-mile clay oval annually are drivers from all variety of motorsports disciplines, including Sprint Cars, Midgets, Dirt Late Models, DIRT Modifieds, NHRA Drag Racing and even NASCAR.
Drivers come from far and wide, comprising a truly international field that will include at least one Aussie and a pair of Kiwis from New Zealand in 2010.
It annually sets up perhaps one of the most challenging, competitive events in all of sports. What other major sporting event hasn’t had a back-to-back winner in its 23 previous renditions?
In 23 previous editions of the Chili Bowl Nationals, snaring that coveted Golden Driller winner’s trophy on back-to-back occasions has proven a difficult task. So difficult in fact, that there has not yet been a back-to-back Chili Bowl champion.
That’s something that Tennessee’s Sammy Swindell will try to change in January. And, if anyone can pull off the repeat, Slammin’ Sammy could be just the guy.
After all, few can boast the past Chili Bowl success that Swindell can. Actually, nobody can, as no other driver has accumulated five Golden Drillers.
After reaching the top step of the podium in 1989’s Third Annual Chili Bowl, Swindell added on wins in 1992, 1996 and 1998 before waiting eleven years to add an unprecedented fifth Chili Bowl to kick off the 2009 racing season.
Care for some perspective? While Sammy has five Chili Bowl wins, the only other drives to score multiple wins include NASCAR star Tony Stewart, California’s Cory Kruseman and Wisconsin’s Dan Boorse. And they’ve won it just two times apiece, with another elite dozen drivers reveling in Chili Bowl glory on one occasion.
Those other twelve past Chili Bowl champions include Damion Gardner, Tim McCreadie, Tracy Hines, Jay Drake, Billy Boat, Donnie Beechler, Andy Hillenburg, Dave Blaney, Lealand McSpadden, Jon Heydenreich, Scott Hatton and inaugural race winner Rich Vogler.
After an event record 281 competitors took part in the 2009 edition of the Chili Bowl, the 24th Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals kicks off with a Monday, January 11, practice session. Four full nights of qualifying action follow on Tuesday through Friday, January 12-15, setting the grid for the Saturday, January 16, Chili Bowl Championship feature events.
While all four qualifying nights will include full cards of heat races, qualifying races and feature events, the Tuesday night, January 12, card will also include the Second Annual Chili Bowl Race of Champions.
The top three finishers from the Qualifying Night features will automatically lock into the Saturday night, January 16, 50-lap Chili Bowl championship feature with the balance of Saturday’s championship feature events lined up according to Qualifying Night finishes.
A limited number of reserved seats remain for Tuesday night’s Qualifying event and Race of Champions for just $26 apiece. Tickets may be obtained by calling the ticket office at 918-838-3777.
Only pit passes remain for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Additional information regarding the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals is available at http://www.chilibowl.com/.