T.J.’s Takeaways Friday’s Chili Bowl Preliminary Night

(l to r) Second place Ryan Bernal, winner Tanner Thorson, and third place Chris Windom following Friday's preliminary feature at the 2020 Chili Bowl Nationals. (Serena Dalhamer photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

With all five preliminary nights in the books here are my takeaways from Friday’s Chili Bowl Nationals preliminary program.

• Friday night produced not only the most exciting of the five preliminary features of the 2019 Chili Bowl Nationals, but one of the cleanest (relatively) as well. The six car race for the lead at the midway point of the event was so wild that even after rewinding the footage a couple of times I failed to find words to describe the exchange that eventually saw Ryan Bernal drive by everyone on the bottom to take the lead.

It was refreshing to have a night where a slide job gone wrong wasn’t one of the biggest stories coming out of the main event. Good, hard racing won out on Friday and thrilled the audience at the River Spirit Exposition Center and at home watching on the pay-per-view broadcast.

• Friday also produced some of the best stories with Tanner Thorson and Ryan Bernal locking into Saturday’s finale.

Thorson’s story has been well documented with a terrible traffic accident in March of last year. Thorson’s remarkable recovery had him back in a race car and winning features by June. The Chili Bowl preliminary victory was the highest profile of his conquests since coming back from the accident.

Bernal took time away from racing to go through school to become a fire fighter in 2016. Once he was done with his training, the talented young driver, returned primarily on the west coast. Regarded then as one of the most talented young drivers Bernal had a standout performance that west coast fans are used to seeing, only this time it took place on one of the largest stages in motorsports.

With tears in his eyes you could see what locking into Saturday’s finale meant to Bernal and might be one of the most lasting memories from this year’s Chili Bowl.

• I must agree with Tanner Thorson’s assessment of Friday night’s racing surface being “bad ass” at the Chili Bowl. The stage Chili Bowl officials gave drivers on Friday was payoff for such hard work all week including a major rework of the track in turns one and two overnight following Tuesday’s preliminary program, proving joy for someone’s hard work in motorsports paying off isn’t just for the drivers.

• It was great to hear that the National 410 Sprint Car Poll named Mike Kerchner from Speed Sport the media member of the year. Its hard to believe all the years Kerchner has been with Speed Sport that this was the first time he won that award. Kerchner will wince if I tell him I grew up reading his stories in Speed Sport (Truthfully, he’s not that much older than I am), but he is a huge influence on me. Kerchner does so much work behind the scenes it was great to see his effort recognized.