How in the world do you put on the biggest non-sanctioned Midget race, in the country's largest indoor building, in January? For starters begin planning well in advance of the green flag. It's an event unlike any other around, 285 Midgets spend five days racing on a temporary banked dirt track nearly a quarter of a mile around…inside a convention center. Eleven-second laps create a vortex of air much like an Oklahoma tornado. All the while a racing trade show runs every hour of the week's program. We are talking about the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, now in its 28th year.
Tulsa is a perfect location for teams and fans to get to the event. It's centrally located in the country and the city opens its arms each year like it's the Super Bowl coming to town. The result? Throngs of racers and fans come out during the cold winter month.
The numbers of workers to host such an event is staggering. They have to handle 15 thousand fans each day for the five-day run. The amount of work to pull "all" the pieces together "seamlessly" is a year-long project for the management team directed by Donna Hahn Martin, Lanny Edwards and Emmet Hahn. "Every year we say there is no way it can get any better, but it always does. We are so blessed. Being a labor of love, it has become more than we ever dreamed," Donna said.
Bring your walking shoes because this event has something for everyone, young to old, first timers to veterans. The Chili Bowl is the grassroots racing super bowl fitting for any motorsports fan and racer alike. Competition is always stiff and this year racers from 33 of the 50 United States along with ones from New Zealand, Australia, and Canada made making the finals more difficult than ever. In addition to the non-stop racing action, fans have a busy day with the trade show and ability to wander through the pits.
The trade show itself has all the players of racing plus local hospitality. The National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum's Bob Baker took time to share his stories about the historical Iowa location. Kyle Douglas explained Rod End Supplies newest products. Megan Hazel presented a look at the 2014 World of Outlaws and Dirt Car Racing season and track locations. The ladies of Hooters and Twin Peaks offered specials at the Tulsa locations while MavTV had a collection of cool swag and information to bring the network to everyone. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. On the final day (Saturday) there is even a race equipment auction in an adjacent building on the massive Expo grounds.
Before They Start The Engines
Meeting fans, teams, vendors and racers is all invitingly casual early in the week and every day the number of people attending grows and slows the pace through the venue. By Saturday, its grid lock with people packed in for the Chili Bowl Midget National finals. It's a good thing they have giant screens located though out the Expo center—you can keep tabs on the races from anywhere. Not surprisingly the seats are packed full and people fill every standing place to view the action. Many fans opt for the lawn chairs or inflatable couches to view the mega screens from the pits.
Can't make it to Tulsa? Racinboys.com provides constant broadcast coverage both live and re-runs of the week's action through their website.
The Haudenschild family (Jac and son Sheldon) were on hand racing Bernie Stuebgen team car
Sammy Swindell puts the polish to the most successful car in the paddock. Swindell made it
Joey Saldana and Michael Pickens exchanging notes before the big dance on Saturday.
Racing Stars and Heroes
The Chili Bowl attracts a who's who of the past and present of racing, you barely have to keep your eyes open to see a big name racer. It seemed like NASCAR led the way this year with Kasey Kahne, J.J. Yeley, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all racing while Stenhouse's girlfriend Danica Patrick cheered him on with her team owner Tony Stewart. Stewart who was still sporting a noticeable limp from that Sprint Car accident, had his own teams in the event.
While NASCAR stars abound, there were even more legends of open wheel, some competing and some like Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Sr. just trolling the pits and taking in the action. Look to the right and you saw Sammy and Kevin Swindell, 2013 World of Outlaws champion Daryn Pittman, and Jac "Wild Child" Haudenschild. Look the other way and there is Joey Saldana, Chad Boat and P.J. Jones, who has made the A main six times but still looking for victory number one.
Over 28 years, the magic of the Chili Bowl has created 18 different winners. The Swindell family leads with nine total (Kevin has four and dad Sammy has five). There are only three drivers, Tony "Smoke" Stewart, Cory Kruseman, and Dan Boorse who have a pair of victories. Everyone else such as Rich Vogler, Scott Hatton, John Heydenreich, Dave Blaney, and Andy Hillenburg have but one. And for 2014 you can add to that list, Tony Stewart Racing's Bryan Clauson.