T.J.’s Notebook: Chili Bowl, the Classic, Schedules and More

Alex Bright (77) and Jason Johnson (41) (Serena Dalhamer photo)
Alex Bright (77) and Jason Johnson (41) (Serena Dalhamer photo)
Alex Bright (77) and Jason Johnson (41) (Serena Dalhamer photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

With racing in Australia and New Zealand on New Year’s Day the racing seasons starts in earnest during the Chili Bowl Nationals. That is when things pick up from the holidays and continue fast and furiously until after the PRI Show.

As a couch spectator for the week  the RacinBoys.com Network did a great job all week with their live streaming. MAVtv and LucasOIlRacing.tv took over for Saturday’s C – A mains. After some streaming hiccups on Thursday for the RacinBoys and early in the night for the MAV folks everything went off without a hitch. The biggest issue was the lack of sleep cranking out the nightly race reports on eastern time with the Chili Bowl in the central time zone.

Christopher Bell went from being the savoir of the week for Keith Kunz Motorsports to home state hero joining Andy Hillenburg as the second Oklahoma driver to win the Chili Bowl. After two of their highest profile drivers, Kyle Larson and Rico Abreu, failed to qualify through their preliminary nights winning his preliminary feature and Saturday’s finale. Bell’s commanding performance in Saturday’s 55-lap feature was impressive. Bell is as calm and cool as they come, but you could see the raw emotion as he climbed from the car after winning on Saturday.

One of the great things about the 2017 Chili Bowl this year was the abundance of great storylines. From the Clauson-Marshall team establishing themselves as a “super team” putting up and coming stars Tyler Courtney and Justin Grant in victory lane, Travis “don’t call it an upset” Berryhill’s win on Wednesday with Manic racing, Larry Wight opening eyes from Pennsylvania west (everyone on the east coast knows how fast Larry is), Robert Bell’s heat race win that propelled him into the qualifier on his preliminary night, to Bell winning the biggest race in his home state were just a handful of the great things that happened at this year’s Chili Bowl. That doesn’t include the countless great stories off the race track like the money raised from the Racers for Autism event on Monday, the Kick-It for Cancer kick ball game, and other charitable things surrounding the event.

There was some grumbling from online and in person viewers about the lull between two thrilling B-Mains and Saturday’s finale and the quality of the racing in the finale. While I completely understand the complaint about the down time the racing part of it I didn’t share the same opinion. The two B-Mains leading into Saturday’s feature were so good that the finale needed to be exceptional to surpass it for excitement. The feature distance of 55-laps lends itself to competitors being patient in the beginning no matter what the track conditions are like.

Overall it was a great week of racing in Tulsa, even from the comfort of my living room. Watching the great action this past week has me thinking a return to the Chili Bowl in person might be in the cards for next season.

Other notes from around the world…

  • Sprint Car Racing in Australia is focused on the events at and surrounding the Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic at Premier Speedway in Warrnambool, Victoria. Known as the Knoxville Nationals of Australia the Classic has over 100 entries including Americans Brian Brown, Cory Eliason, Dominic Scelzi, Carson Macedo, Greg Hodnett, Brad Sweet, Kyle Hirst, Harli White, Terry McCarl, and Shane Stewart. Kerry Madsen, Brooke Tatnell, James McFadden, Gary Brazier, and Jamie Veal are among the Australian drivers that American fans have seen compete in the United States looking to keep the Classic title at home. The event is also a qualifier for the SPEED SPORT World Challenge held on Friday at the Knoxville Nationals.

Veteran USAC competitor Randy Bateman passed away at age 63 after a courageous battle with ALS. I cannot recall a time growing up until now where there wasn’t a Bateman entry in the United States Auto Club. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bateman’s family and friends.

  • Schedules coming out quickly. Notable things from the past couple of weeks BOSS schedule with the new dates at Mansfield Motorsports Park, but none at Wayne County Speedway, Attica Raceway Park, and Eldora Speedway. Even without those Ohio tracks the schedule its refreshing to hear the confidence in series owner Aaron Fry and how steadfast he is to the BOSS concept. Fry has every right to be confidence as his series seems to know its niche and sticks to its mission.
  • The Fremont / Attica Sprint Title continues to evolve from bonus for teams racing at Fremont Speedway and Attica Raceway Park into racing series with 410 dates at Mercer Raceway Park, Waynesfield Raceway Park, and Atomic Speedway with several co-sanctioned events with the Ohio Sprint Car Series. It will be interesting to watch how many teams follow the entire FAST tour with the expanded travel.The FAST 305’s also make road trips outside of Attica and Fremont to Mercer and Waynesfield with a pair of races at Limaland Motorsports Park.

All indications are Millstream Speedway will be silent in 2017. This news has caused several dates to shift on several series 2017 schedule.

  • Shadyhill Speedway hosting ASCS National Tour and Midwest Sprint Car Series in 2017. Shadyhill did not host any sprint car programs last season.