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For Chili Bowl pics for one and for the other

The annual trek to Oklahoma for one of the premier races in the USA is over, and it was a bomb! The additional day at the 2002 O'reilly's Chili Bowl only served to pleasantly wear me out more than usual, and splitting the 180 or so cars into three nights worked OK, and then the 4 day show was an excellent event, but there are a few things we could work on that are small nits. Tony Stewart made the moves he needed to get the huge win and left two very worthy drivers in his wake. Kevin Doty had it in his grasp and led much of the race, but the bottom feeding Stewart stayed down there, and it worked for him. Cory Kruseman made it a three car race the last 30 laps and the outcome was an awesome display to the checkered flag!

Tony collected the $10,000 first prize and added an $11,000 bonus put up by Mopar, when his red Mopar midget was victorious on a play-day for him. Tony drove a great race this year that will make us all forget Smoke Johnson from last year, and now he can go back to NASCAR to get the big money again knowing he has won em' all on the dirt tracks.

Kevin Doty ran a great race and only came up short because his line went away slightly at the end. Kevin won Wednesday's opener and started on the front row of the big A Main with teammate Tracy Hines, who won Thursday's prelim, the final night. Tracy led the first 19 laps before the car quit on him. Frankly, the win would have been more important to Doty, because he does this weekly midget thing at Angel Park in Wisconsin, and his fans would have gone ballistic for such a premier feather in his cap, or Cory who has set the SCRA on fire in 2001. Tony didn't need it to make his career any better, but it was just more bragging rights for the NASCAR veteran. He was really pretty cool in the press room afterwards, noting he still loves driving midgets the best!

Cory Kruseman won Friday's 25 lapper by taking it to Stewart and Jason Leffler from the start. He was in good position to win his 2nd Chili Bowl, but had a slight handling problem on the opening green flag, and went from 3rd to 10th in a blink of an eye. He did a monster driving job from the restart to get into 3rd very early in the race and was in the hunt right up until the last corner. He ran 2nd late in the race but couldn't get past Tony, who stayed exclusively on the bottom in the widest midget of all time, and was shuffled to third at the flag by inches.

The biggest complaint I have on the Chili Bowl isn't their problem at all, unless they want to make a rule here. The driver's name on most of the cars was too small for us grandstand rats to read without binoculars. There were a few large enough to see who it was, but not enough. With 180 cars to keep track of, and some duplicate numbered and painted alike cars, it was a zoo for many fans, even with the driver's rosters in their hands. The cars that had the drivers name boldly on the top rock guard above the driver on the front of the cage was just fine.

The pure racing fix received by all of the fans in those last 4 days can't be duplicated anywhere else! When you have 22 open wheel champions under one big roof, you can expect the best racing, and it was true. The whole event was run very efficiently all four days and Lanny Edwards and Emmett Hahn have built a real championship event that should be seen by every race fan. Track prep is always a problem, indoors or out, and they did a good job, but the dry slick results late in each night were a "detraction to the action". Yet, mostly it was close wheel-to-wheel action, but one groove was usually the best way around. Maybe the dirt is tired after lying out all year and brought inside for two weeks.

Several drivers really put on super charges to move forward with J J Yeley's wild restart action in the B Main the most spectacular. He picked off at least one car each restart by going high above the low groove train and roaring ahead of a car and slipping back in line. He came from about 15th to get the last transfer spot to the main. Too bad he didn't start a little closer. Jack Hewitt made a grand charge in a C Main to come from his 15th starting spot, utilizing the high groove rim riding technique he too has mastered, and beat Sammy Swindell for the win. Jack raised over $14,000 for a local charity with his two-seater sprinter. At least $4,000 of it came from a lady who took a ride with Tony Stewart, ten laps of it, after winning an auction that went up in increments of $500. Discretionary money, well I recon!

The Tulsa Expo building is big, but the only time fans were really affected by the mass of cubic people were when they kicked you out to re-enter each day, (what a blockade that was in the entrance), and after the races when "all" the fans went in the pits, especially after Saturday's race. There was hardly enough room between the haulers to walk, but it was fun. Imagine leaving after the races each night and returning early the next day and there was always something going on and people to talk to. Two auctions were held with the National Hall of Fame and the World Wide Race Fans doing it for different charities. And the weather! It was 70 degrees on Wednesday, can you believe it? No rain, sleet, slush or snow to ruin our fun.

Doug Auld was taking subscription orders from plenty of fans for his new Sprint & Midget monthly magazine that will replace Open Wheel. The personable guy had a smile for everyone as he and his helper (his wife I think?) worked all four days in their booth visiting with fans and explaining the good reasons to subscribe. He promised the top writers and photographers will support the monthly publication. This includes Dave Argabright and Kevin Eckert, both excellent story writers, and many more. It looks like we will get a better replacement magazine for OW. To bad Kevin was squeezed out of his Flat Out deal, but we can always cancel that one because Flat Out is him!

The best part of the annual Chili Bowl for me is always the people, seeing both friends from afar and the racers. The great racing is merely the capper of the trip each year. I had the pleasure to visit with many of the outstanding racers and their crews, many writers and photographers and personalities in racing, but listening and watching Lealand McSpadden is a trip all of it's own. He is the ultimate driver/PR/race person, period. He still oozes the charm and personality we all miss weekly, and although it kills him to not be racing, he is part of the big show wherever he goes. After the Wilke's put two cars in the winners circle the first two nights with Doty and Hines, he kidded them about wanting to drive and asked if they had another car. Sure was the reply, just say the word and we will give Billy Pauch his plane ticket home! In jest I am sure, as Pauch is one of the all time great Modified drivers and gets around just fine in a midget or sprint car. Lealand wore a t-shirt that stated "the older I get, the faster I was"!!

The best appearing car was Bud Kaeding's # 29k, and all because it showcased the sponsors best. There were a bunch of others that looked great, but apparently it wasn't a beauty contest. Bud had said he wanted to win the race because his father, Brent, never did! Hah, Kids! Speaking of sons of great drivers, there were a few. Along with Bud, Chuck Gurney Jr, and Bobby East were two prominent younger versions racing the small track. Neither made the A in but they did well.

Troy Rutherford drove with a tender hand, due to something that didn't agree with him, and put on a show in his first ride ever in a midget. He made the big A Main on Saturday, so that was pretty amazing for all he had to go thru. So did J J Yeley and Jeremy Sherman. Jeremy had the best shot behind Cory for a win for the left coast, but had a problem late in the race when the car stopped and he had to go to the back, and that after running in the top 6 for a long time. J J started on the tail and methodically picked his way to 11th at the end to earn some more cash for the best passing job. On his opening night he was leading his heat and had a bleeder problem leaving him third at the finish and farther back in the main that night. Then he had another flat in that race and had to run the Semi on Saturday to get into the big show.

Perhaps the unluckiest driver was Critter Malone, a guy who builds his own stuff and had a shot at the lead, but narrowly missed making headlinesand finishing in 4th behind Cory. It was the most exciting of all the Chili Bowl races I have seen, yet I know our guys were disappointed in their finishes. They shouldn't be, they only raced against the finest drivers there are from many different organizations in a "mine field" of cars each time they were on the track. It is amazing what the SCRA sprint drivers, can do when they jump in the smaller cars once a year. It is true for many other once a year wonders as well.

My son Kevin, Wags Jr, did the photography work for me all week, running to the winners circle each night to get just the right pics for Mrs Wags page. Kevin enjoyed the fun as it was a new experience for him. A big thanks to him as we tried to color the flavor of the event for those who couldn't make it to Tulsa.

I also have to thank Lanny, Emmett and their staff for the hospitality and all the updates they provided me at the track. Getting the results printed clearly after each race really came in handy! Lanny spent some time using the portable mike he carried around to let the fans know certain things were available or what was happening. You saw both promoters in the crowd all weekend working to make it all run smooth.

Oh, and lastly, to the rude person in the VIP section the last night that removed my seat saver (among many others around it) on the next to the top row, up the nearest walk way from the steps, and taped their own down in it's place, you know who you are, and I say thank you. I only wish I knew your name to let the world know you got in free and still weren't satisfied enough to find your own seat! Only in America!

Perhaps the banquet news will cheer you up. Tune in next week and read all the news from Las Vegas and beyond.

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