Tulsa, Oklahoma in the middle of January has been the home for one of the kickoff events of the United States motorsports schedule for twenty-eight years now and tomorrow kicks off the highlight event of the year for midget car racing: The Chili Bowl.
The Tulsa Expo Center has once again been transformed into quarter-mile dirt oval with a plethora of names entered for a chance at the Golden Driller. Kevin Swindell became the first driver to win the event back-to-back years in 2011 but back-to-back wasn't enough. The Tennessee-native has won four consecutive Chili Bowls and a win this weekend would not only be an unprecedented five consecutive but would tie his father Sammy for the most Chili Bowl victories at five, something that took Sammy over twenty years to accomplish.
The Swindell family has held Tulsa hostage for the last five years with Sammy winning in 2009, a year prior to Kevin going on his four-year binge but that hasn't stop the best drivers from showing up and giving it their all to perform a coup.
Four other past Chili Bowl winners are entered along with the Swindells. Damion Gardner is the most recent driver not named Swindell event and he returns looking for his second. Gardner won the USAC/CRA Sprint Car title last year. Tim McCreadie won in 2006 but then suffered a massive accident in 2009 that left him with a broken vertebra. He finished fourth last year. Gardner and McCreadie will be teammates with Gardner driving the #47 and McCreadie in the #47X for Andy Bondio. The other past winners are Cory Kruseman and Tracy Hines. Kruseman is a two-time winner of the event.
The list of other potential suitors to knock the Swindell's off their throne include Kyle Larson, Chad Boat and Brady Bacon, three drivers who were running up front before mechanical failures ended their attempts to dethrone the Swindells. Boat looks to join his father Billy as a Chili Bowl winner and join the Swindells as the only father-son pairing to win the event. Billy Boat won in 1997.
Dave Darland has accomplished a lot over his career but winning the Chili Bowl is one thing left on his to-do list. Christopher Bell is coming off winning the USAC National Midget championship in his rookie season in 2013. Bell's 2013 Chili Bowl saw him advance from the C-Main but fall shot in the B-Main. Bryan Clauson had to advance from the B-Main to get any crack at the Swindells last year. This year the defending Sprint Car champion Clauson returns as well as Jerry Coons, Jr.
Kasey Kahne will drive the #71, a car that the late-Jason Leffler had been working on at the time of his death last June. Leffler was the winning car owner when Damion Gardner won in 2008. The 2013 World of Outlaws champion and Darryn Pittman returns to Tulsa to compete against his WoO car owner Kahne.
Other drivers entered for this year's Chili Bowl include two-time USAC Silver Crown champion Bobby East, USAC Triple Crown winner JJ Yeley, 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., 2013 USAC National Midget Pavement champion Darren Hagen, PJ Jones, Chris Windom, Rico Abreu, Kyle O'Gara, AJ Fike, Dillon Welch and Jon Stanbrough.
The top three finishers of each nights A-Main will qualify automatically for Saturday night's feature event with the remaining drivers filling out Saturday night qualifiers to race their way into the 55-lap. Last year, enough drivers were entered that the qualifying races had to start with a K-Main. The top six drivers from each B-Main on Saturday will fill out the A-Main.
Stay tuned to find out who qualifies directly for the Chili Bowl final and who will have to work to do come Saturday.