T.J.’s Takeaways from the 2022 Chili Bowl Nationals Finale

Blake Hahn (52) and Brad Sweet (1R) (Serena Dalhamer photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(January 15, 2022) — Six nights of racing, nearly 400 cars, and hundreds of laps of racing at the Tulsa Expo Center the 2022 Chili Bowl Nationals is in the books. Here are my final takeaways from the Saturday finale:

• After five years of seeing either Christopher Bell or Kyle Larson victorious in the Chili Bowl Nationals, Tanner Thorson added a new name to the list of victors to take home a golden driller from the Tulsa Expo Center.

After finishing behind Christopher Bell on Thursday at the Tulsa Exposition center Thorson put his best attribute to work, grinding away to figure out how to make his race car better. That work paid off on Saturday when Thorson clearly had the best car in the later stages of the 55-lap feature.

Thorson’s journey is like a lot of others in our segment of the sport that had their NASCAR aspirations that did not go as they had hoped. Rather than giving up when stock car racing didn’t go his way, Thorson hustled to put together deals to race. In the spring of 2019, we didn’t know what the future might hold for Thorson after a serious highway accident.

Through all that uncertainty Thorson kept grinding, working his way into good situations, eventually landing at Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports, which was the sixth different team he competed with at the Chili Bowl Nationals in six years.

Thorson is the kind of gritty, hard-working driver we should be proud to have in our sport and associated as being a victory in one of our biggest event. While having a Christopher Bell or Kyle Larson win the Chili Bowl is great for the sport, having a driver that will be racing a midget car on a regular basis during the 2022 season is beneficial as well.

• Another big moment took place on Saturday when Kaylee Bryson became the first female driver to make the Saturday A-Main at the Chili Bowl Nationals. The way Bryson raced her way into that main event by finding the top of the racetrack in the second B-Main before anyone started to use it to get to the lead followed by driving right to the bottom of the track at the proper moment to keep the competition behind her. The move was very reminiscent of how Rico Abrue won his qualifying night earlier in the week.

Bryson is not a Chili Bowl flash in the pan. Her performances on the USAC National Midget Car tour have been on an upward trajectory and with several fast qualifier awards including the Turkey Night Grand Prix and multiple top five finishes last year.

Saturday night at one of the biggest short track races in the world, racing in front of fans in her home state, Bryson was not intimidated by a moment that have made drivers with far more experience give in to the pressure.

Add in the fact that Bryson is well spoken and sincere in her interviews and it might be a good idea to see her on the USAC tour this season because I don’t see big time stock car racing passing up on her.

• As a person who has attended the Saturday program at the Chili Bowl television does not do it justice. The quality of the MAVtv broadcast doesn’t help that perception. While it does bring a broader audience in to watch the finale. The technical errors in the broadcast were glaring even among people that are not regular dirt track viewers.

After watching the quality of the camera work and production on the Floracing broadcast all week, the live action on the MAVtv broadcast paled in comparison. Having Rob Klepper on the broadcast was the one shiny point, but the product put on Saturday does not paint as good of a product at the Floracing crew.

Multiple technical errors, bad camera switches, and other issues including users not being able to log in at the start of the broadcast through MAVtv’s streaming service is not a great look for one of the biggest events in our sport. The dash of finding if or where MAVtv, whos’ distribution is on the lighter side compared to other regional sports networks, or signing up for a streaming service just to get it for the C through A Mains is difficult for the novice fan.

MAVtv’s b-roll and features between racing action is adequate, but quality of the on-track product needs vast improvement to show the Chili Bowl in the best light possible.

• Bonus take…hats off to the track crew at the Chili Bowl. After what looked like we might see a lackluster Saturday feature when the track started to become very bottom dominant, sans Bryson’s run in the B-Main, they delivered again with a track that produced good racing for the finale. The 55 lap finale is a different animal than the preliminary night features where the first half of the race serves to widen out the race track to produce an action packed second half of the race. Hats off to them, and hopefully they can catch up on sleep for a few days once the track is removed from the expo center.