At long last, the time has come! The time of year that countless racers and fans circle on their calendar months in advance, eagerly awaiting the event of the year. The second weekend of January is looming, and that means one thing; it's time for the O'Reilly Chili Bowl Midget Nationals!
In little more than 24 hours, the initial green flag will unfurl on the 18th running of the prestigious Chili Bowl Midget Nationals at Tulsa Expo Raceway in Tulsa, OK. Already, numerous trailers sit in line around the spacious Tulsa Expo Center, chomping at the bit to get a prime parking space and then take to the quarter-mile dirt oval for four nights of intense racing action.
In what other event will you have the opportunity to see NASCAR stars Tony Stewart and Ken Schrader, NHRA Drag Racing hotshoe Ron Capps, World of Outlaws standout Danny Lasoski, USAC kingpin J.J. Yeley and Dirt Late Model studs Rick Eckert and Bart Hartman rubbing wheels in pursuit of the same winner's hardware?
In what other race can previously unheralded drivers such as Shane Cottle, Joe Boyles, Critter Malone, Luke Icke, etc., jump into the spotlight and challenge for a coveted Chili Bowl crown? Those uninformed amongst us will surely laugh at the notion. However, any fan with some Chili Bowl notches in his belt knows better. It happens every year. Someone that nobody would have suspected rears his head, gets his elbows up and proves his merit as a race car driver by bidding as fiercely for the win as any of the pre-race favorites.
What other event can entice drivers (Dave Darland, Tracy Hines, Mike Hess and Billy Alley to name a few this time around) to interrupt their winter getaways to exotic locales like New Zealand, adding a pair of ridiculously long plane rides half way around the word, simply because they can't stand the thought of not being there?
Never mind stressing your noggin too much over the previous queries. For each of them are loaded questions. There is no other event, so unique in its nature, that offers what the Chili Bowl has to offer. Originally a one-night stand in 1987 (or one-day to be accurate, since it was held on a Sunday afternoon), the Chili Bowl has evolved into the most unique of events, and racers from all corners of this great land lay awake at night, running the potential victory scenarios through their minds in anticipation of their next shot at the Chili Bowl.
With 218 drivers already entered, all three nights of qualifying (Wednesday through Friday) are sure to deliver the most intense of racing. It simply has to be, as more than 70 drivers will battle each night for just four transfer positions to Saturday's grand finale. Each qualifying night, four drivers leave the Expo Center with a sense of relief, knowing that they've locked themselves into the big show. The other 70 or so, give or take a few, leave their qualifying night knowing full well that they still have work to do in order to make the starting grid.
Each night is loaded with potential winners. Just kick around the names. Wednesday night has guys like Lasoski, Drake, Boorse, Reid, Ray, Kaeding, Westfall, A.J. Fike, Gerster, Droud, Icke, Boyles, Capps and Lehmann. Thursday offers up Yeley, Hines, Hess, Aaron Fike, Rutherford, Sills, Malone, Beechler, Hatton, Wright, Schrader, Hartman, Stanbrough and Sherman. Friday's no cakewalk either with Stewart, Kruseman, Kahne, Darland, Flock, Wise, Coons, Doty, Gardner, Cottle, Alley, Eckert and Knepper. Throw in a dozen or so more threats on each night, along with the unexpected darkhorses, and each night is sure to be a battle royale for the fab four spots to Saturday's main event.
Race fans, rejoice! The time for the O'Reilly Chili Bowl Nationals has rolled around once again. And after four nights of action-packed, back-it-in, dirt-slingin' action this Wednesday through Saturday, we'll all know who will reign as Chili Bowl champion for the next twelve months.
And then we'll all part ways, bidding farewell to the grand Golden Driller for another year, returning to our respective abodes and circling January 5-8, 2005, on our calendars, stashing away a few extra bucks here and there as we anxiously await the excitement, good times and everlasting memories that the next O'Reilly Chili Bowl Nationals is sure to bring.
By: Lonnie Wheatley