Chili Bowl Nationals - A winter classic

Chili Bowl: A Winter Classic Saturday, January 12 from Tulsa, Okla. Live on HBO Pay-Per-View TULSA, OKLAHOMA (January 5, 2008) - To two-time defending United States Auto Club (USAC) National Midget champion Jerry Coons, it's a race with a...

Chili Bowl: A Winter Classic
Saturday, January 12 from Tulsa, Okla.
Live on HBO Pay-Per-View

TULSA, OKLAHOMA (January 5, 2008) - To two-time defending United States Auto Club (USAC) National Midget champion Jerry Coons, it's a race with a "buzz." To NASCAR NEXTEL Cup superstar Kasey Kahne, "it's just exciting." To USAC Triple Crown winner Dave Darland, "it's a great time." To defending winner - and two-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion - Tony Stewart, it's "one of the coolest races of the year."

Clearly, the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals is a lot of things to a lot of people. But on this point, there is no debate: The Chili Bowl has become an event not to be missed. This year, fans unable to be a part of the sell-out crowd jamming the Tulsa Expo Center from Jan. 8-12 can watch a live pay-per-view international telecast of Saturday night's (Jan. 12) headline action.

First run in 1987 on a specially-built, quarter-mile indoor dirt oval, the Chili Bowl -- named because it was first sponsored by a local food company whose primary product was, you guessed it, chili - has become one of America's premier short-track events, and one of its most-discussed automobile races, period. Each winter, the top Midget and Sprint Car drivers flock to Tulsa in droves, joined by an eclectic smattering of NASCAR stars, Indy Car drivers and even the occasional drag-racing champion.

"You've got guys from all over the world," marvels Darland, himself an iconic figure. "New Zealand, Australia, NASCAR, NHRA, Indy Cars; you know, there's just all sorts of different competition there, all sots of different levels of drivers."

Stewart, the 2002 and '06 Chili Bowl king, says, "It's like going to an all-star game. Just getting the chance to race with some of these drivers is an experience of a lifetime and you do have that possibility of winning the whole thing."

Sprint Car legend Sammy Swindell is the leading Chili Bowl winner, with four titles to his credit. He will be back for a fifth, at age 52, and is considered to be among the favorites. On the occasion of his 1992 triumph, one of Swindell's mechanics was a 16-year-old California kid named Jason Leffler, who would soon gain fame as a three-time USAC Midget champion and, later, a NASCAR Busch Series regular. "The first year I went there, I worked for a guy named Larry Howard," Leffler recalls. "Larry had Sammy Swindell driving his car, and Sammy went to victory lane. So the first time I went there, I won it, as a crew member. And it's been a race that's been close to my heart ever since then." Leffler, too, will compete in this year's Chili Bowl, and is another strong threat to walk off with the A-Main feature victory.

Race organizers Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards have zealously crafted the Chili Bowl's tradition, and the winning trophy - dubbed the "Golden Driller" in recognition of the 76-foot statute of an Okie oilman which guards the Expo Center in a nod to Tulsa's petroleum history - has become a cherished piece of motorsports hardware. Everybody wants a shot at Chili Bowl glory; this year, upward of 280 Midgets are expected.

"When you arrive at the Chili Bowl, there's a certainly a buzz there," says Coons, one of the top Midget drivers of the last half-dozen years in anyone's book. "It's in the winter time, [so] everybody's itching for a race. The fans are; the racers are."

Joey Saldana, one of the top drawing cards on the World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Series, puts into perspective exactly what the Chili Bowl means.

"I race for a living," says Saldana, a 13-time WoO winner last season, "and the better I do, the more money I make. But the Chili Bowl isn't about the money. It's more about the prestige."

-credit: cbn/lw

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Series Midget
Drivers Tony Stewart , Kasey Kahne , Dave Darland , Sammy Swindell , Jerry Coons , Joey Saldana