T.J.’s Takeways From Friday’s Chili Bowl Nationals Preliminary

Tim Barber (3F) and Blake Edwards (17E) (Serena Dalhamer photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(January 14, 2021) — After five nights of preliminary racing at the Chili Bowl Nationals my coffee maker has remained idle. Not once did I have to fire up the caffeination station because the the quality of the racing has provided enough energy to finish my writing every night. Here are my takeaways from the final preliminary night.

• When Justin Grant exited his car after winning the preliminary feature Friday night at the Chili Bowl Nationals, I half expected him to be donning a gladiator outfit asking in the fans were entertained.

Grant provided some of the entertainment himself by mistaking the white flag as the checkered during his qualifier, losing the win in the process. Then tipping over his RMS Racing entry while doing celebratory doughnuts.

Grant performance despite some of the mistakes and having some fortune fall his way is a good sign for Saturday. It does take a lot of skill to win the Chili Bowl, but with over 400 entries with a wide range of ability from first to worst means there is a lot of luck as well. Grant proved again he should be a contender to win on Saturday.

Grant would be a popular winner, but RMS Racing with Dave and Matt Estep would be equally as good. The Esteps are midget racing guys as Matt would race indoors with his family car at Fort Wayne while pursuing school at Harvard University of all places. RMS has built their program into the next midget car super team and putting a victory in the Chili Bowl finale on their team’s mantle would be the next step in that process.

• Friday night produced another wild feature finish along with great racing throughout the night. I can’t recall a Chili Bowl since the event has stretched past four nights that had as good of preliminary features as the 2022 edition.

The Chili Bowl is known for its great racing, but it always felt like one or two of the preliminary nights just didn’t stack up well against the other races during the week. This year other than some late race rubber on Monday night the Tulsa Expo Raceway has been in superb condition and the drivers have responded by putting on racing action that made the Expo motorsports ultimate winter destination.

The question becomes how the track surface respond with the litany of races will slated to take place starting at 9:00 a.m. central time on Saturday? In past years I would be leery of what the conditions may turn out like, but the way the track crew has performed all week I believe we are in for a treat on Saturday.

• There were plenty of standout performances in the Friday program. Sam Johnson with a strong run in the top five, Zeb Wise’s charge from 17th to the podium, but Tom Harris having some strong moments during Friday’s A-Main stood out as much or more as the others with better finishes.

Harris American racing efforts have been in limbo for the better part of two years due to the pandemic. Racing went on in America with Harris losing out on all that seat time. Harris did race in the United Kingdom, but even he would tell you that the BriSCA F1 is the racing equivalent of a different planet compared to midget and sprint car racing in the United States.

Granted Harris was running for Keith Kunz Racing, which fielded the previous four preliminary feature winners during the week, but with a two-year layoff to be solidly running in the top five seemed impressive to me. Hopefully the pandemic stays under control enough that Harris can resume his American racing endeavors on a more frequent basis.

• Bonus Take: The best moment of the night didn’t take place on the racetrack; it took place in the pit area and in front of the grandstands in turns three and four when Daison Pursley walked into the Tulsa Expo Center. Pursley suffered serious injures in a midget crash in Arizona in November and many wondered if he would ever be able to walk again. Seeing the smiles on everyone that encountered Pursley during his surprise visit to the Chili Bowl will go down as one of the most heartwarming moments of the week.