Indoor auto racing-not a phrase you hear often in our sport. Yet there is an indoor track in Tulsa that offers some of the most exciting and anticipated dirt track racing of the year-indoor or outdoor.
Tulsa Expo Raceway is basically classified as a "makeshift racetrack" housed in a massive 1111/42- to 12-acre building on the Tulsa State Fairgrounds. For roughly 50 weeks out of the year, the building hosts local events and shows, but for two weeks in January, its walls shake under the force of full-bore race cars.
"This building is huge," says Emmett Hahn, president and founder of American Sprint Car Series and copromoter of the Chili Bowl. "The building was constructed in 1962 and did not even have sidewalls. It was originally built for an oil-derrick show."
The main roof on the building has an opening in the top, which is then covered by a raised roof about 2 feet higher than the main roof. This system, along with 13 huge exhaust fans, allows proper ventilation for exhaust fumes while keeping out inclement weather.
"In 1984, when the open-wheel Super Modifieds left the fairgrounds," reflects Hahn, "we took some clay and stockpiled it. We built a track in 1986 and ran Midgets in what we chose to call the Chili Bowl."
Slated to run every first Saturday in January, the STP Tulsa Shootout is held the weekend before the Chili Bowl. The two events are held on consecutive weekends simply because bringing in the clay and subsequently removing that clay is a massive task for the promoters. Technically, the floor of the building is made of concrete, but Hahn's crew brings in more than 700 loads of clay to transform the surface into almost a perfectly circular track. And after the two shows are over?
"When the Chili Bowl is over on Saturday night," explains Hahn, "by Tuesday at noon the cleanup crew is steam-cleaning the walls and ceiling for a huge boat show that comes in the weekend right after us."
The complexity and headaches involved in staging the races are immense, but all the hard work pays off year after year as some of the country's best dirt-track racing takes place within the building's walls.
"The STP Tulsa Shootout," says Hahn, "is where we run about 600 go-karts. We also have Quads and Micro-Sprints that comprise our main classes. It is a big event; for example, we had more than 1,100 vehicles running over the length of last year's event."
The Chili Bowl has quickly become one of the top dirt events in the country, and the racers show up in droves. The weekend will see anywhere from 115-140 Midget cars competing for the coveted championship.
"I don't mean to toot our own horn," Hahn boasts, "but the Chili Bowl is probably one of the top-five 'most talked about' dirt track events in the country." Just some of the drivers who have turned laps at this prestigious event include Page and P.J. Jones, Dave Blaney, Kenny Schrader, Jeff Gordon, Sammy Swindell, Billy Boat, and Tony Stewart.
"Besides having outstanding racing," says Hahn, "the quality of cars, the quality of drivers, the size of the track, and the fact that the people haven't seen racing in several months due to the time of year, between all of that, it is simply a 'happening.' That's what makes peo-ple come."
Track FactsClay, slightly less than 11/44 mileFront and Back Straights: 165 feetTurns: 100-foot inside radiusBanking: 5 inches to 4 feet