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January 19, 2013

By Ken Wagner

The 27th annual Chili Bowl trip was a lot of fun and some great racing, but the Kevin Swindell 4th win in a row was not met with excitement by many fans. If you were a Swindell fan, Nirvana, if not it was “anybody but Swindell” bandied about as we all knew the results before it started on Saturday night. Obviously the #1 and # 39 cars were head and heals above the rest with their seemingly effortless moves to the front all week and the top spot on the podium was done in black 3 times before the finale and continued the last night. I heard many people disgustingly say they wouldn’t be back, but wanted to be there when the Swindell’s were beat! Kinda brings back memories of the Steve and Karl Kinser shows in the Outlaw world back in the day.

My Chili Bowl Pics are Tuesday Click here to view. Wednesday Click here to view. Thursday Click here to view. Friday Click here to view. Saturday Click here to view. For Doug Allen's work Click here to view those.

I had intended to be in Tulsa on the Saturday before the start of the 5 day marathon, but spotted a great B Ball tourney in Las Vegas that day so changed my flight to Monday. Unfortunately, I got very sick with the flu, so they said, and was unable to rally for 8 games that day. Resting up I took my infected ear on the plane with a pocketful of antibiotics to Tulsa on Monday afternoon. My friend Mike Clark got on my flight and we were in T-Town about 5:30 PM. After renting a car we two headed to a new to us steakhouse called Spudders where Don The Barber, Trucker Frank, Suitcase and ”Goug” waited on us. The place is rustic decorated with a lot of oilfield stuff including gas pumps and signs of the oil industry. A big Scudder was outside by the front door, it’s the thing that digs the hole and then brings the oil to the top. Anyway, I ate there twice and a better steak you will never have, at any price, it was that good.

After dinner Mike dropped me at my Tulsa home where my old roommate Tony Mishler lives. Tony and another friend named Ron Tunin and myself lived together back in the early 70’s until I met my bride of soon to be 38 years and we got married and came back to California. I now stay at his place, and my son Kevin comes to town so we can spend this time together each year. Morning brought my reunion with an old favorite food place that closed downtown and reopened recently near Tony’s called Nelson’s Buffeteria. Chicken fried steak and chicken with gravy was a big favorite when I lived there and it is still great! Kevin arrived around noon and off we went to the Tulsa Expo Center where this week’s excitement would begin and end.

After getting checked in with our pit passes, Kevin took off for parts unknown and I began my first walk around the massive indoor race track facility. When I finally found my way to the John Golobic trailer and found my old friend Fred, I borrowed a scooter that really made my week. Fred had asked me last year if I would like to use one of his scooters and I declined because I was too stupid to realize the benefits. After walking my butt off in the 2012 Chili Bowl and realizing I could use some help for these old legs, I agreed to try it this year. I used it every day and returned it each night where it was charged up for the next day for me. It makes me want one. It made my getting around each day so easy, I wasn’t exhausted like in the past. Anyway, it was very nice to get the use and I am very thankful for the opportunity. It got me everywhere except down on the track and what a deal! Thanks Fred, I might have to get me one!

Each day of the Chili Bowl was spent pretty much the same as Kevin and I would eat, he would drop me off at the track and he and his friend Tom would go off to play while I rode around on my borrowed scooter, took pics and visited with a lot of nice people, my racing friends many of whom I wouldn’t see again until next January.

The first two nights I had the pleasure of sitting up in the “suites” seats, the ones above the front stretch grandstands that have an unblocked view, as Bill Merian couldn’t make it and that was a pleasure. You can see everything from up there, unlike my usual seats where everyone stands up in front of you at the slightest evidence of an incident, of which there were plenty, and you have no clue of what happened. Up top I was able to use my long lens and capture a few pics, but the reality is you have to be lucky to capture anything worthy and anything close to the fence is unusable when shooting thru it. I didn’t take my camera in the last three days as it really isn’t worth the effort shooting thru the fence and the standing people, but the first two days, simply amazing!

Besides the racing Kevin and I had time to go to a used book store, ship home said books bought, and generally have a good visit together. We ate at Nelson’s Buffeteria several times, Ted’s excellent Mexican restaurant, the Cracker Barrel, Ron’s burgers and Charleston’s for our culinary dining. The usual feasting added more pounds to my upcoming diet plans, but it was all worth it.

Now a little about the racing I saw, keeping in mind that the Chili Bowl is “vision overload”, so I’ll do a little recall. Unfortunately, this year won’t go down as one of the best, unless you drive a unique black Swindell car or are a Swindell fan, as the qualifier nights were all won by the pole sitter and the finale was won by Kevin Swindell from the 2nd starting spot on the front row, which had “the” two black cars who had earned their perch up there. So unless you were watching the “other” hard chargers, you might have gone away a little bit disappointed with the lack of suspense in the racing.

Don’t get me wrong, the black duo was dominating in every way as they won every race they entered no matter where they started, and that’s DOMINATION! With Kevin adding his 4th Chili Bowl driller and winning the race of Champions as well, it was a Tennessee sweep of grand proportions. Together they have won 9 of the 27 Chili Bowls and anyway you cut it, that is amazing! They obviously have something nobody else has, and I won’t say they are the best drivers out there, just making what works beat the best for the last 4 years. And for those who said they aren’t coming back next year, don’t you want to be there when someone beats them?

During the 5 nights of competition, there was plenty of action from a number of great drivers as many of the other champions did some amazing things just to get a chance at a driller, or in many cases another driller. A driller is the cool trophy the winner gets each year, and for those of us that like it, you can buy a hat pin of the design. Anyway, our west coast drivers did very well with 11 of the starting 24 from out our way. The best was Brad Sweet in third place followed by Jerry Coons Jr and Shane Golobic also in the top ten. Many more were just an incident away from making the big dance, but maybe next year. The popular winter event brings out a lot of cars to race. With nearly 270 midgets in the house and high hopes for a chance at the measly $10,000 winner’s prize, and it could be more. In that ongoing cluster of cars, yes there are a lot of cluster f’s during the week, don’t we all know it? You have to have luck, skill, a great car and a lot of luck to get through it all, did I mention luck?

Each year many rookie’s show up for their maiden attempts at fame, and their inexperience puts them in harm’s way a lot and creates some of the skirmishes that ruin a lot of hopes. This race is run “what you brung” with no rules to speak of, just no ski’s for tires? The action is “no holds barred” and you can see it often enough on the track when a driver will literally bang another one out of the way to get the spot and move on. No fines or penalties, unless you hit the cone on a restart, so it’s an ever moving scale as drivers take others out, on purpose and of course accidently, with the offended drivers being towed back to the pits for some expensive repairs before they try it again. Since the officials are mute on incidents, there are a lot more “bull in a china closet” jousts than usual, thus the “you need a lot of luck” to survive! The bold drivers are the winning drivers, but that is not why Kevin Swindell won for sure. When you are faster, you don’t have to take the brash approach, just be patient.

Sometimes I wonder if they could invert 8 in the finale or more? At least the winner would probably have to race a little more to get to the front, thus giving the fans a better race to watch. The format would have to be changed to make it work to stop sandbagging, like the Trophy Cup that rewards the best efforts and doesn’t allow any room to do less, and that’s not likely. I for one hate front row winners, even when it’s somebody I like. I used to suggest some drivers go to the back for our enjoyment, like the time Lealand McSpadden (the Chili Bowl Grand Marshal) started in the rear due to a flat tire or something, at Lincoln, PA in a CRA race and surged thru the dust to get second and didn’t know if he won or not. I am just saying on our dream racing list, a Trophy Cup chili Bowl would be boss, think about it!

Now, on to the action, it’s a week after the fact, so here are the highlights I remember. The first heat right out of the box on Tuesday night was won by Casey Shuman from the second row with his cousin Rick Shuman running 9th. The second heat saw me zooming in on Bobby Michnowicz with my camera as he rounded turn 4 to take the green. His right front shock said “oh no you don’t” as it exploded and the right side tilting car got upside down immediately. While he was rebuilding the car, his wife Wendy was looking under the turn four grandstands for the offending parts, and she found some, too! You'll find the pics on my tuesday night photos page. Click here to check it out! Chris Windom won this battle from his 6th starting spot. The third heat started Marcus Niemela on a very good chili Bowl run as he finished 2nd on his way to the Saturday night main. He was very impressive to this wag as he drove hard and did great his two nights of racing. Brendon Bright won the heat. The fourth heat was good as Kyle Larson was his usual impressive self. He stared 8th and ran it up to 2nd in this one behind Sam Hafertepe Jr who started on the pole. Kyle would have the fans standing and cheering on Saturday night, but I am getting ahead of myself. There were three California boys in the next heat with Sean Dodenhoff winning the 8 lapper ahead of . Matt Mitchell ran fourth and it was good to see the young man back from his serious eye injury from last year’s Indiana Sprint Week crash that was made famous on Speed Week. Welcome back Matt, your fans missed you! R J Johnson, from Arizona, won the next heat with aggressive driving from the 4th starting spot. Another California boy P.J. Jones won the 7th heat from the pole beating out Josh Lakatos from Pasadena, CA. P J, the son of one of the most famous drivers of all time, Parnelli Jones, looked sharp in his win. The last heat was won by Shon Deskins from Arizona to keep the west coast flavor rolling.

The four A Features ran and Marcus Niemela won the first one. The driver who lives in Santa Barbara, but is from Finland, was pretty sharp beating out Smoke for a great victory! Kyle Larson was second in the 2nd A.

Sammy Swindell started on the pole of the race of champions, bur Kevin rolled from the 2nd row to beat J J Yeley, who had the lead and made just one mistake, thus Kevin won. J J was on his game and got by Sammy before finishing 2nd.

Tyler Walker did the “excuse me” move by pinning Bobby Michnowicz to the wall and claiming the last qualifying spot in the 2nd C Feature on the last lap. Matt Mitchell got the last transfer from the first B feature to move on to the Tuesday feature. Zach Daum gets kudos for coming from 14th starting spot to win the 2nd B feature, great job! P J Jones got the last transfer.

In the A main Kyle Larson started on the pole and took off! Brady Bacon shuffled backwards from his 2nd row starting spot, then when everyone went to the bottom, Brady rolled em all up and around the leader who was in a middle line. Kyle was no dummy as he made a daring pass under the other young Beady and took the win as he held the fast line on top the rest of the way.

Wednesday night was fun as well as more action was there in front of us. The track is always part of the show as sometimes there is only one groove as it went in the Saturday finale, but the racers adjust. Local boy Dustin Morgan took the first heat with Josh Pelkey claiming 3rd in the ABC Motorsports entry. Fast guy Steve Sussex Jr came from 6th to win the second heat looking fast in the Arizona car. The third heat saw a driver from Washington, Gary Taylor rule the 8 lapper ahead of CRA Champion Mike Spencer. NASCAR star Kasey Kahne went nowhere starting in 6th and finishing there. Jac Haudenschild looked 2nd tier fast (you know not 1st tier like Sammy and Kevin but as good as the rest of the best) and he pulled away from Danny Stratton for the win in the 4th heat. Shane Golobic, a California boy whose star shines brighter every time I see him run, blew away the 5th heat competitors and 2nd place finisher, the notable Brad Kuhn who wins a lot of Midget races around the land. Ooops I forgot Sammy Swindell was 2nd in the 6th heat behind Thomas Meseraull, but he came from the 5th stating spot as Messeraull was the pole sitter. In the 7th heat, Damion Gardner came from 7th to get up to third ahead of Jace Vander Weerd who was making his second Chili Bowl start. Riverside, CA’s Darren Hagen pulled off the last heat race win of the night on a flag to flag win from the pole.

The first A qualifier saw Gary taylor win from 4th and Matt Streeter third and Jace Vander Weerd 5th. Darren Hagen won the second “A” ahead of Shane Golobic. Damion Gardner and Mike Spencer ran 2nd and 3rd behind Jac Haudenschild in the 3rd A. And of course, Sammy came from 6th to win the last one ahead of Kuhn.

Kasey Kahne hung on for the win in the 1st C Main as 6 cars went out on the hook! He was one of 5 who didn’t finish the 1st B Main. The second C saw 4 more hooked off as Wes McIntyre won the 12 lapper. Bobby East won the 1st B feature ahead of WOO veteran Johnny Herrera. Jace Vander Weerd Looked good winning the 2nd B ahead of Danny Stratton.

The A Main started Sammy Swindell on the pole and saw Sammy pull away from Damion Gardner to win another one. Notably Bryan Clauson came from 13th to 7th ahead of Mike Spencer. Wow and it was only day two of five!

Thursday night started with a bang as I missed a couple of heats because we went to eat late. J J Yeley won the 2nd heat from the pole as Troy Rutherford tried to reel him in to no avail. Four cars took the hook-n-ride to the pits, crestfallen I am sure. Brad Sweet showed us his fast machine winning the 3rd heat. Young Richard Vander Weerd was 4th. Kevin Swindell came from 5th to win the 5th heat ahead of Tracy Hines. Bud Kaeding mustered 4th from his 8th starting spot in heat 6. Tim Kent was last in the heat, but if you knew the story how he got there, you would be amazed. They “windowed” the block on Monday nights practice. That’s what Brian Harvey’s son Cody told me when I saw them on Tuesday. The Harvey Motorsports entry would be done unless… grandpa Harvey invested in a new motor? That he did and the two days of buying a new one, getting all the right pieces to install it in their chassis and some help from Mike Sala to get it set up so they could just compete on Thursday was a whirlwind for them all. Just another behind the scenes look at one team that weathered it all and got to race. In the 7th heat, the ABC Motorsports second entry featured Nic Faas and he ran wire to wire for the win! Big time drivers Cole Whitt and Jason Leffler ran 3rd and 4th as the west coast continued to do well. The last heat was all Jerry Coons Jr as he came from his 5th starting spot to win handily. Dennis Howell Sold his # 62 Fontana midget to Mike Sala and Mike let him drive it in the Chili Bowl. He ran from 8th to 4th smoothly and looked forward to a good week.

Californian Tanner Swanson came from 10th to win the first C main, WOW! Troy Rutherford won the 1st B Main ahead of Billy Pauch jr. His father use to give the CRA fits during the CRA Pennsylvania tours! Brad Noffsinger was running his first open wheel race in he said 20 years, (could it be that long as he looks just like he did back in his CRA championship years). He was in one of those “incidents”, and went end over end several times. He was busy the next two days rebuilding and getting ready for Saturday. The second B saw Dennis Howell The A Main had guess who on the pole, young mister Swindell and he didn’t let any grass frow under his wheels to win another qualifying main. Brad Sweet giave it his best, but settled for 2nd with Tim McCreadie putting on a show coming from his 15th starting spot to 3rd place and made the slick track work for him. Outstanding!!! I thought he was a lapped car, but after watching him, he was on a run! Behind the winner, it was some good racing. Back to the house and some cheers hoisted for a bit.

The opening heat on Friday saw California Woo Champion driver Jason Meyers win ahead of another CA boy Brett Felkins. Former USAC Champion Levi Jones won the 2nd heat from the front row. Ronnie Gardner had new Esslinger power under the hood as he ran from 6th to third looking good! USAC youngster Chase Stockton won the 3rd heat as super youngster Ryan Bernal crashed into the wall after a rubbing incident with another driver that took his front end away from the steering wheel. Remember Alex Schutte from his Kruseman rent a ride? He ran a strong 4th in the 4th heat. In the 5th heat Taylor Simas from Orland, CA beat Chad Boat out for 2nd place as Chad came from 9th. Rick Hendrix came from 7th to get 3rd in the 6th heat. Cory Kruseman proved the old adage “I’d rather be lucky than good” when he crashed early in heat 7 and appeared done for the race. He went to the work area and fixed something, but on the restart it wasn’t working very well so ended back on the X for more repairs. As the restart took off without him, a car crashed hard and gave him the time to come back all fixed and get 2nd to get more points than he looked like he would get.

The first A qualifier saw “Big G” Ronnie Gardner win the 10 lapper ahead of perennial top dog Dave Darland. The Mustache man Jon Stanbrough ran second in the 2nd A. Chad Boat was definitely on the 2nd tier hot cars group as he came from 6th to win the 3rd A. Levi Jones beat Cory Kruseman to the checkered flag to win the last A.

Ryan Bernal had his work cut out for himself as he started 10th in the first C and moved up to 3rd for a good job. Alex Schutte won the first B as Bernal came from 15th to 3rd again. Fairfield, CA’s Tim Barber won the 2nd B with some good work to beat Derrick Meyers from Illinois who came from 16th!

What we saw with Chad Boat so far was even tuned up more for the A Main. Even though he started on the pole, now a pole winner for the 4th night in a row, He ran away from the pack. Cory Kruseman was 2nd ahead of Double D Dave Darland. Ryan Bernal came from 21st to 10th with a few incidents and that makes 30 cars he passed in 3 events, talk about getting little out of a lot, he was smokin’! Unfortunately for Ronnie Gardner, he got screwed. He had started 7th and patiently worked up to third with five laps to go. On the restart, the overanxious gremlins took over. First a Kruser sighting bumped him out of the way where he was nailed by another car and then had a flying Bubba Altig land on top of him, ending his night. Where was his luck? Somebody else had it.

Saturday’s always are a problem because racing starts at noon with the alphabet features from K on up to the big A Main??? I can’t sit thru it all so I usually just tool around and visit and watch the results and talk with winners and losers. I was dropped off at the track by my son after breakfast for another scooter ride of fun! I managed to do this meandering thru the pits and shopping area many times, so I saw a lot of people. Sitting on the scooter sure made the visiting easy! About 4:30 the boys called and said it was time to eat so off we went to Spudders for another big boy beef feed. Again it was the best steak and we took our time so as to avoid the long intermission from the alphabet features that would be done by 6 pm. We planned on a 7 pm return thinking the racing would be ready to go, WRONG!

After watching the parade of states and the pitiful Frisbee exhibition by the drivers trying to throw them over the short fences to the grandstands, it was tooooooooooo looooong! Finally it was race time and off they went with the C features about 8 pm. To check all the west coast driver results Click here to view! There too, is the link to the full results at chilibowl.com.

The track became pretty touchy as the many laps of the day and rework of it didn’t really make it great. There would be 6 transfer to the B features and Bobby East won the first C from the pole, it’s getting old isn’t it? Bud Kaeding was the only CA driver of the 6 that transferred with a 3rd place finish. Of the six CA drivers in the second C, Alex Schutte won with Richard Vander Weerd 2nd and Rico Abreu got the last transfer as he moved up 3 spots to get it.

The two B’s up next were ready. Washington’s Gary Taylor won the first B from the pole. Mike Spencer got 3rd and Marcus Niemela came from 10th to 4th on a good run to move on. Jerry Coons Jr took the pole in the second B and motored to a big win. He was followed by Shane Golobic and Jason Meyers all 3 going to the BIG SHOW! A note here, all winners in the A thru the first E, were on the front row. See the pattern, and see the condition of the track. Hard to pass someone in the groove after 4 days of pounding on famous the dirt track that is parked outside on the fairgrounds the rest of the year. Out of 89 events run in 5 days this week, 51 were won from the front row and that is over 57%! Before the main, the track was again worked and watered. They do the best they can, but it is a monumental task to make it work.

Father and son were on the front row with Chad Boat and Kyle Larson behind them. On the green, Sammy took the lead and Kyle took after him. For about 15 laps it was as exciting a race as you can see. After Kyle took the lead, Kevin took it from him and the two really put on a show for about 8 or 10 laps or so. With the crowd on it’s feet screaming for Kyle, the two passed each other at each corner until Kyle suddenly tried to come back on Kevin out of turn 4 and barely spun the car to a stop. Silence, as the crowd was shattered! On the next restart, with Kyle in the back, the track quickly became a one groove affair and no one could get after Kevin, even his father who was effectively keeping everyone else behind him, whether he was trying to or not.

There were some in the back who moved up pretty good: Bryan Clauson from 20th to 8th, Billy Wease from 22nd to 9th, Marcus Niemela from 19th to 11th, and Shane Golobic from 16th to 7th. A lot of that was before lap 20 of the 55 lap main when there were two grooves in the race honoring Donny Ray Crawford’s memory. So if you were watching behind the top 3 or 4, there was some good action.

The Chili Bowl is the premier Midget race of every year. While all other events have lost fans and race cars, this one continues to shine. You just have to go there and realize it is the most unique racing event in the country. Nobody else can boast of the biggest stars from all of racing’s organization’s including the wingless and winged sprinters, NASCAR and more, it is amazing! Nowhere else can you rub elbows with today’s stars and many of our retired champions of the past and importantly to many of us, the fans both friends or not. And that is why the big dollar teams have 4 and 5 cars with the best equipment and the best drivers are asked to drive. For me I get to merge into the landscape and observe it all. I get to talk to racers, crewmembers, old timers and even promoters, it’s a blast!!! I can be just a fan having fun and don’t have to do anything, just let it happen. The racing is like always some good and some not so good, but it’s all good in racing. If you haven’t been to T-Town for this event, plan ahead, nothing runs against it and the cool people are always there.

I relaxed on Sunday, watched some football with my old roomie at the Goldmine bar and then headed out to Las Vegas in the morning. Loved the trip and wished we didn’t know who was going to win. That’s all I got, whew!

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