Coons conquers Chili Bowl foes in qualifier

Friday night's 25-lap qualifying feature for the 18th Annual O'Reilly Chili Bowl Midget Nationals at Tulsa Expo Raceway had a western states flavor to it, with Arizona's Jerry Coons, Jr., fending off the late challenges of California shoes Cory Kruseman and Josh Wise to claim the victory.

Danny Ebberts of Canyon Lake, CA, made a last lap pass to snare the fourth and final transfer position to Saturday's prestigious main event, giving drivers from the left coast a sweep of Friday night's top four finishing positions.

Jerry Coons Jr. fought off the late charges of Cory Kruseman and Josh Wise to win Friday night's 25-lap qualifying feature at the 18th Annual O'Reilly Chili Bowl Nationals.
Photo by Lonnie Wheatley.
After wheeling Karl Warnke's Stealth-powered Fontana to a wire-to-wire victory, albeit a close one, Coons commented that, "It's not the most prestigious ride here. They're a super-nice bunch to drive for though and they give me everything I need to be competitive. From the Stealth and Fontana, to tires and shock-wise, they make sure we have what we need."

Coons continued, "It's not like some of the higher-profile teams where you just show up, sit in the trailer while they do all the work and then you jump in and drive. I've been able to work on the car, I've been playing crew chief and driver and I'm kinda happy that we did what we did tonight. I just hope we can do it again tomorrow night."

After pulling the highest possible pill (100) in the pre-race draw for starting position, Coons started eighth in the grid in the evening's fourth heat race. After being involved in a pair of early incidents, Tucson's Coons sliced through the field in less than five laps en route to the heat win, securing the pole position for the main event.

Coons was joined on the front row of the main event by Ron Kuhn, who charged from sixth to win the fifth heat race, with ever-present Chili Bowl threat Kruseman and Shane Hollingsworth in the second row.

Coons outgunned Kuhn at the drop of the green flag, with Kruseman quickly moving into second. Coons' pace was interrupted on the sixth round when fourth-running Rickie Gaunt tagged the turn one wall. Gaunt was able to rejoin the race.

Coons resumed his quick pace on the low side of the track with Kruseman, Ebberts, Kuhn and seventh-starter Wise in pursuit. Coons and Kruseman gradually separated themselves from the field, with Wise taking advantage of the cushion to race past Kuhn for fourth on the 15th circuit, one lap before the caution flew for Gaunt's disabled mount on the backstretch.

With Coons and Kruseman working the low side of the track, Wise stuck to the cushion and slipped around Kruseman for second on the 22nd round. Bidding for the lead, Wise jumped the cushion in turn three two laps later, allowing Kruseman to regain command of the runner-up slot.

With Coons holding a slim lead, Kruseman moved the Barnes-powered Kwik Change Bondio machine to the high side on the final lap but fell two car-lengths short of Coons at the stripe, with Wise a close third.

In a wild multi-car battle for fourth, Kuhn overtook Ebberts for the position on the 23rd round. Ebberts returned the favor in turns one and two on the final round, as Kuhn tangled with another machine on the backstretch. After starting 13th, Kasey Kahne was in the thick of the battle for the final transfer in the final rounds but settled for fifth.

Hollingsworth was sixth, while Robby Flock turned in the evening's top passing performance by racing from 19th to seventh. Bobby East advanced from 17th to eighth, with 15th-starter Dave Darland and Doug Lippincott completing the top ten.

Gary Taylor, Kruseman, Wise, Coons, Kuhn, Lippincott, Kahne, Darland, Flock and Matt Westfall topped heat race action for Friday night's 74-car field. Mat Neely and Jan Howard claimed victories in the twin 12-lap C Mains, with East and Shane Cottle topping the twin 15-lap B Mains.

Jesse Giannetto, Travis Johnson, Travis Miniea, Eddie Leavitt, Jr., Dean Franklin and Cliff Servetti were all heat race flip victims, with Matt Sherrell and Kirk Kubik taking B Feature tumbles. There were no injuries.

By: Lonnie Wheatley