Every January, drivers worldwide flock to a convention center in Tulsa, Oklahoma to win one of the most coveted trophies in dirt racing, a Golden Driller. Kyle Larson said winning this race is bigger than winning a Daytona 500. So what are the Chili Bowl Nationals? What is a Midget Sprint Car? and who is racing this year?
January is the last month of the off-season for many motorsports, but for some select drivers, it is the beginning of the new season and many of them flock to the Tulsa Expo Center in Oklahoma to race the Chili Bowl Nationals. They come across the world, across disciplines, to race on a 1/2 mile dirt oval built indoors for a week, culminating in the final race Saturday night. This is the Chili Bowl Nationals, and it begins this week.
— Chili Bowl Nationals (@cbnationals) January 8, 2024
History of the Chili Bowl:
In 1987, Lanny Edwards and promoter Emmett Hann organized a dirt midget race inside the Tulsa SageNet Expo Center with sponsor Chili Bowl Foods. Taking clay from the nearby fairgrounds and moving it inside, allows for a perfect racing surface not affected by the weather. Fifty-two drivers from across the country came to try to make the fifty-lap feature race, with Rich Vogler taking the first victory in the race.
Since then, drivers from around the world have tried to earn a golden driller, with Sammy Swindell having the most success. Swindell has won the race a record five times. His son, Kevin Swindell holds the next most wins, at four. Cup Series driver Christopher Bell has three wins, winning in 2017, 2018, and 2019. There is a four-way tie for drivers with two wins, those include Cup Series and NHRA team owner Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, and Rico Abreu. Father of 2023 Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney, Dave Blaney has won the event.
How does the race work?
The Chili Bowl Nationals will have upwards of three hundred drivers trying to race in the feature race and win the Golden Driller. With that many drivers, they have quite a complex qualifying format.
There are heat races throughout the week, which award passing points. the forty drivers scoring the most points will advance to the qualifying races, and the others will go to C-Main races. If in the C-Main, you need to finish top-four to advance to the B-Main, and the top-four from the B-Main are placed at the back of the A-Main. The A-Main is the final race of the night, happening every night until Friday. The top two from the A-Main are locked into the feature race on Saturday, and everyone else goes into the ‘Alphabet Soup’.
Alphabet Soup is the nickname for the races preceding the feature race on Saturday. Depending on how many drivers show up, the lowest race could be the P or O Main race. If stuck in the O-main, you will have to win or finish second to advance to the N-Main, and eventually try to make one of the B-Main races and finish top seven.
After all this has happened, you are left with the twenty-four midget sprint cars for the fifty-five-lap feature race on Saturday.
But what’s a midget sprint car?
The younger sibling of Sprint Cars, Midgets, are high power-to-weight ratio dirt race cars with their history beginning in 1933. In Los Angeles, the first-ever race occurred at a high school. It quickly spread around the world, with midget racing series popping up in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
Utilizing a 400 horsepower, four-cylinder engine, and weighing under 900 pounds, these cars are incredibly quick. The lap record at the Chili Bowl being 10.75 seconds around the 1/4 mile track, set by Buddy Kofoid in 2022. It is not uncommon to see cars pull wheelies when they find grip on the dirt surface. While incredibly quick, they are extremely prone to rollovers. Midgets have a full roll bar protecting the drivers in case they do roll, which they do frequently. According to Chili Bowl Flip Count on Twitter, the 2023 Chili Bowl saw over twenty-five flips.
Who dares to drive these insane machines?
Who is racing in the 2024 Chili Bowl?
This year, according to the entry list updated on January 6th, 373 cars and drivers have signed up for the Chili Bowl. Drivers come from all across the United States, with drivers coming from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and one driver from the Netherlands.
Notable entries include Cup Series racer, Chase Briscoe. Briscoe, who grew up dirt racing is driving in his car with sponsor Mahindra on the side.
— FloRacing (@FloRacing) January 9, 2024
Alex Bowman has brought his race team to Tulsa, fielding cars for CJ Leary and Kevin Thomas Jr. Bowman, who injured his back in a Sprint Car wreck in 2023, has stated he will not be racing sprint cars and will be focusing on the Cup Series. Josh Bilicki and JJ Yeley are also in attendance, Yeley is a former USAC Champion.
Yesterday went well. I mean, I think. I’m just the admin and really don’t know anything but the cars looked sweet. We’re not on track today, maintenance and whatnot to get ready for KTJ’s prelim night on Tuesday. pic.twitter.com/hXCp24EiW6
— Alex Bowman Racing (@ABR_teams) January 8, 2024
Indy Car driver for AJ Foyt Racing, Santino Ferrucci is making his third Chili Bowl start. Ferrucci led 11 laps and finished third in the 2023 Indy 500.
— Santino Ferrucci (@SantinoFerrucci) January 3, 2024
How to watch the Chili Bowl Nationals:
To watch the 2024 Chili Bowl Nationals, you will need to have a FloRacing subscription. All the weeks on track action will be broadcast through their streaming service. The coverage starts at 8:00 am Eastern time, and the racing begins at 4:00 pm.
The 2024 Chili Bowl Nationals are underway in Tulsa. That’s everything you need to know before you catch the week’s worth of exciting Sprint Car racing.