Every racing series has their star driver, but true all-star drivers shine in every form of racing. Those are the drivers who continue to visit the Chili Bowl year after year.
You will see the best drivers from every professional racing series, World of Outlaws to NASCAR. Yes, the star pupils of racing will shine at the annual event but there are more than just stars in the sky. Grassroot, locals, and upcoming drivers are what make the mold for the Chili Bowl. The racing legends of tomorrow continue to shine each January.
The Chili Bowl Midget Nationals are a racers off-season fix, the race is broadly known throughout the United States of America. The few people who have not heard about the event are puzzled at the fact that it is during January and deep in the heart of Oklahoma. It is because of Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards that the race is held indoors, and has been since its 1987 inception. The name on the other hand can warm even the coldest January bones, The Chili Bowl. Its name was derived from The Chili Bowl Food Company of Bob Berryhill.
What makes this track truly special is the clay that covers the quarter mile oval. The clay does not dry up or crumble like Mother Nature intended it to, but is kept moist because of its indoor location. The Tulsa Expo Raceway is a drivers dream; the moist indoor clay surface is more predictable, has higher accessible speeds, and not to mention the tracks well gripped surface.
The January event is not a typical weekend trip; its festivities span an entire week making the race a fan favorite. The Chili Bowl Nationals kicked off its famed week with a meet and greet at the local Bass Pro Shop. Fans had the chance to mingle and get autographs with members of Tony Stewart Racing.
That wasn't all the Tulsa Expo Raceway had in stock; fans providing proof of a Chili Bowl ticket purchase could enter a raffle to ride in the Chili Bowl pace truck. It wouldn't be a kick off party by Bass Pro Shop if something about the outdoors wasn't showcased; the King of Bucks trailer had an on site exhibit of trophy white tail. Prizes were also given out throughout the night.
The days leading up to the famed Chili Bowl Nationals were crammed with back-to-back qualifying races; showcased were racings' stars of today, tomorrow, and yesterday.
In years past, NASCAR has looked to open-wheel racing for new talent. The Chili Bowl has been the stomping grounds to many successful NASCAR drivers.
This particular Chili Bowl Nationals was extra special for fans and drivers alike; 2008 was the commemorative year that HBO presented the event on Pay-Per-View. 10,000 plus fans watched in person, but thousands more were cheering from the comfort of their own couch.
It seems that in today's world of racing, age is just a number; this cannot be truer than at the Chili Bowl Nationals. Drivers young and old have battled every January for a position in the prestigious A-main. It should not be surprising that the 2008 event featured many up and coming drivers. Unfortunately there were only 24 positions available for the A-main race; thus numerically leaving out numerous talents. The young drivers who did secure a place in the A-main prominently shined. Such eye-catching talent was Bryan Clauson, 19-year-old development driver for Chip Ganassi Racing. Bryan finished the A-main in 4th position, and is just one of the many young drivers who slugged it out and fought a good fight for a chance to be immortalized in the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals history.
A record of 285 drivers entered the 2008 race; nearly 300 drivers beat and banged over the course of 76 races, at a chance that only twenty-four entailed in the end. When it was all said and done, Damion Gardner was the victor of the spoil and captured the coveted Golden Driller trophy. Fellow Chili Bowl Champion Tracy Hines knows the recipe for success come each January, "There are 275 plus cars that come to race, making the A-main isn't just about driver talent, everything is involved. You need a good car, good driving skills, and luck. The fastest car is not who wins the race with the Chili Bowl's format."
Gardner, who is known as "The Demon" was behind the wheel of Jason Leffler's Pace Electronics/Team ASE midget. "The car was really good when it was pretty tacky all the way across, but it was getting really slick to a curb. And it was right after a yellow, I got in a little too hot and caught the edge of it and spiked it up," he said. "I just tried to keep it straight, and when we landed Dave (Darland) was alongside me but he was on the slick and probably gonna get no traction. From then on, I just entered a little lower and tried to put in good smooth laps rather than fast ones."
The 2008 Dodge Chili Bowl Midget Nationals was a success to say the least. A record number of driver entries captured everyone's attention, but the cherry on top of any open wheel Sunday was the first ever-live broadcast of the 22nd annual race. The Oklahoma race was not made famous over night, it was because of the support from local grass root drivers that made it the sensation it is today.