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January 22, 2012

By Ken Wagner

My annual trek to Tulsa for the 26th annual edition of the famed Chili Bowl started off in Springfield, MO of all places. Why you ask, because my son and daughter live there and the flight cost was cheaper than Tulsa for me, so I got to do the family visit and go to the race like I always do. There isn’t any one race anymore that is more fun than this one. The numbers of genuine heroes under one roof in the chilly winter is unbeatable for entertainment. The ability for fans to interact with these heroes is real easy, except everyone has to wait for Saturday night to get Smoke’s autograph, but he stays until everyone is taken care of. I can’t imagine a better setting for race fans, but many don’t get the chance because it is sold out year after year. The only thing that doesn’t make the Chili Bowl the best of all midget races is that the payout is so small for the record crowds and cars. I am sure it could pay the winner a lot more than it does, but that is not my call. We all go anyway just to see what happens. This wasn’t the best ever, but then, it was still worth the expense and time taken. Everyone should go at least once!

The pics from Tulsa click here to view. For the never ending stats of who did what Click to read them.

My time in Springfield included a visit with my daughter Jill and my grandkids Zoie and Logan. Also my time with my son Kevin and his wife Angie included their 3 dogs and 4 cats. Naturally Kevin and I saw 4 High School B-ball games and two college games during my 10 days in the cold Midwest. It was sunny and a little chilly as nighttime temps hovered around freezing, but it wasn’t all that different from my abode in Las Vegas. Only the long walks have begun to take the toll on these tired old knees. My son even brought me a walker, but I made it thru this year without using it, next year maybe a motorized vehicle for me as there is so much ground to cover once you are inside the place, anything on wheels would easier for me these days. That’s why my mule is so good for me at the PAS and a few other tracks, those long walks aren’t fun anymore. Enough about my knarly knees and how about this trip?

Kevin and I left for Tulsa Monday about noon and drove straight to the Expo center in Tulsa and checked it out on a practice night. After getting our press stuff in the VIP office we wandered the trade show area and found out they were charging to watch practice? First of all the racers are the only ones that really want to watch practice, but the fans use to stream in for the preview they could see on practice night, and tonight was a ghost grandstand look. It was good to talk with some around the area and after that we were off to my old friend Tony Mishler’s house where home would be until Sunday morning. As most know Tony and I were roommates when I met my bride Terry some 38 years ago. We got our bags moved in and he noted we wouldn’t be parking Kevin’s car in the garage like past years. Tony lives in a nice roomy home with an attached two car garage that use to have only a Harley parked on one side of it. Now he has added a 2002 Corvette parked in the other side, so we will be relegated outside with his normal mode of transportation, a pickup truck that he drives everywhere.

Kevin’s lifetime friend Tom met us at the Expo Center and would be staying for the first night of racing. I procured a top row seat for the first night from Ben Woodsen from Texas, so the boys could sit together. We hit Ted’s Mexican restaurant for dinner and to say there was too much good food on that table that would be an understatement! Add a margarita and life was all good that night as we readied ourselves for five nights of racing ahead.

Tuesday morning the three of us headed off to eat at the Twin Peaks Restaurant and I don’t have to tell you their girls are prettier than the Hooters girls. Good food, good views and a pleasant time before they dropped me off at the track to visit some more. I spent the afternoon walking the huge pit area and reacquainting myself with cars, drivers and friends as I walked around by myself as Kevin was off shopping for lures. He’s a bass fisherman and is always looking for that perfect fake bait. I checked out paint jobs and visited with many in my walk. It was the only long one I took as the rest of the week I would just go in and settle down and visit with several and just enjoyed myself. I didn’t take the volumes of pics this year because of that. I didn’t bring my long lens because the position of my grandstand seat doesn’t allow much track action due to people standing up when I might want a pic of something. Also I had dropped my camera at the Ovals and even though it took a real man to adjust the zoom, it still worked. Before the trip I took the sticky lens in to have that fixed and get it cleaned. When I went to check on it after returning home, it was in pieces in a box with sad news from my repair man, it couldn’t be fixed cheaply, better to find a new or used one! So now I am looking for another one on E-bay. Too bad because I really liked that one! Anyway not nearly as many pics and I am OK with that. I actually took a few in the stands, but wasn’t happy with the fence ruining them, so didn’t post many.

I met up with Kevin in the grandstands and the night began with the opening night racing. The track looked the same but with only (?) 260 entries we would have but 8 heats each night with 8 cars except for Friday, when a few 6 and 7 car heats happened. A lot of racers I didn’t recognize out there, but I had a list and could figure them out. There were a lot of California drivers, but again, many names I didn’t recognize.

The very first heat race was won by Justine Grantfrom Ione, CA. And it was started again and you can’t help but love it. Floyd Alvis from San Carlos, CA ran 3rd in the next heat. That cagy veteran once offered me a few laps in his winged TQ/Midget at Bakersfield after I had done some track packing laps in Tom Downing’s 410 sprinter the night before. I declined to be seen in a wing car, what would people think? But I know it would have been fun.

R J Johnson, Johnathon Henry and Thomas Meseraull, all west coast heroes, won their heats that night, so half the heat wins were by “our” western guys. They had a Race of Champions event with Sammy on the pole, and as you could have predicted when that one started, goodbye Sammy. He got the last number drawn, imagine that, and it was the pole position. Sammy’s two cars seem to have something all others don’t, but then maybe he is just a better driver and his son is a chip off the old block? I wanted a model of his car, but the premium put on the die-cast model was just too much for me.

The feature was dominated by our own California boy Kyle Larson who looks like he can win anywhere but Perris, but don’t let that worry you, the young man is very talented as he continues to win all over the land in any type of car, and Perris will happen, if he stays with us that long. A pretty good race and we were done for the night. I went in to the interview room and took a few pics and chatted with some of the photog’s before heading out with Tom and Kevin. We had a Jack in the box late night snack and took it back to the house. Tony waited up for us and he introduced us to Tequila Rose, a little tasty strawberry milk kinda drink. The boys had some whisky they brought and it was a wrap.

I can’t tell you how much fun I have at this place. Many of my friends are only seen at this race so it is a reunion of sorts. Anyone that has been there goes back for the visitin’ and the racin’! I checked in with Danny Pressnall of PHD (Pro Helmet Designs) and he had scored me two tickets to the Tulsa University basket ball game that night, wahoo. You know how I like my B ball! Tanks to Danny, I had to call Kevin to get him in gear. We had already given a ticket to my old roommie Tony who always goes one night while we are in town. Kevin had planned to hit the infield to take some pics and I was to sit with Tony. New game plan as Tony found a friend to go with and we headed to the B ball game.

It had been a warm 65 degrees during the day, but in Oklahoma if you don’t like the weather, just hang around, it will change. We arrived at the game and a cool breeze was going on. After watching Tulsa beat UTEP, we walked outside to a white out! I am not kidding, it was blowing big flakes of the white stuff and the ground was wet and getting a little slippery. The plan was to hit the race and watch the feature, but it was getting late as we left the game and instead a Jack in the box stop was followed by the warm confines of Tony’s living room and some talkin’ and drinkin’ until it was time to go read before sleep. It got down to the low 20’s as the near 50 degree slide was just another fun thing about Oklahoma. Bye the way Sammy won with Danny Stratton from Riverside 2nd and Smoke Johnson 3rd. They would all transfer to the Saturday night main!

Thursday would be Julie Shiosaki’s Key lime pie Tini annual afternoon gathering at PF Changs, so Kevin and I went to Chick Filet for breakfast to hold us over. We did some shopping as the day went on. Kevin was looking for some old time fishing bait places like before Bass Pro invaded the city. He found something like a dozen listed, but most were not there anymore, kinda like the Walmart syndrome. When the big stores come to town, all the mom and pop stores go away. Dinner and some martini’s with some good people including Julie, her mom Joyce, Dick and Sue and Michelle, Fran and Jim, Mike Clark and Bill and Reene all had a few cocktails and some good food. It was time for more racing.

Thursday night was to be young Ryan Bernal’s first trip to the Chili Bowl. His talent is obvious in a sprint car as he gets better with each race and now let’s try the midgets! He was 2nd in his heat and won his A qualifier to start about 7th in the main event. He got bumped off his line and before he could get back in line he was in the back. That’s how it goes there, one little problem and you get a close look at the back. The rest of the race he ran with the leaders, but couldn’t unlap himself from the them and finished 21st running about as fast as the top five, except for winner Kevin Swindell. Shane Cottle and Brad Sweet were on the podium going directly to the feature on Saturday night.

Another Californian who is big in the saddle is Rico Abreu as he was third in his heat, 2nd in his A qualifier and 7th in the main. He runs out of the Kaeding stable and is pretty talented. Richard VanderWeerd, the West Coast 360 Champion last year, did well himself. He was 4th in his heat, 2nd in his A Qualifier and 4th in the main on a good job by the twin who is getting better and better. Damion Gardner won his heat, was 6th in his A qualifier and ran 16th in the main after some typical problems with “incidents” not of his causing. Back at Tony’s we had some of Ike’s Chili restaurant’s peach cobbler (the only real cobbler I have found anywhere these days outside of my grandmother’s kitchen back in the day, and she passed away 15 years ago!) and boy was it good!

Friday was time for Charlestons, a mid priced classy restaurant that has great food in a nice atmosphere. The salads and bread are great and Kevin says the fried chicken is unreal. Then we had stuff to shop for again and eventually I was dropped off for more visitin’ and gabbin’. The racing started and away we go. I had an enjoyable calm day as I sat around and watched people, oh what fun. I sat with Danny along at the entrance to the trade shoe in his booth and lordie, lordie, lordie it was like watching a contest of who could troll along the longest. Everyone goes by, so I had a few chats and just relaxed until it was after the hot laps and time for racing again.

No California heat race winners this night and only Bud Kaeding could win an A Qualifier, but there was some good action along the way. Ronnie Gardner had scored a ride in an old beat up chassis that laid around the shop for a while and with some fixin’ and borrowed parts he was in the Josh Ford camp and immediately had his problems in his heat right out of the box. You could tell he had a shock problem as he couldn’t get it to turn left as the car was headed down on the right front, and amazingly finished 5th! He was 8th in the A Qualifier and ended up in the 1st B Main. After two stops due to the crazies around him, he surged to get the last transfer to the main event! Quite a job for the young driver! Starting in the back, he moved from there to 10th at the checkers, a proud guy he was passing 14 cars. This year passing wasn’t as noted as in the past as many didn’t make the runs like in the past. Maybe the dirt that gets moved in from another area on the fairgrounds is worn out, who knows?

Cory Kruseman ran 2nd in his heat and his A Qualifier and started up front to power his way to the win ahead of Levi Jones and Bryan Clauson putting those three in the top 12 at the front of Saturday nights main event that turned out to be a 55 lapper. So far they had not had to redo the track each night as I guess the two grooves were fast enough without change. I will note here that the huge air handling fans that use to be in the ceiling taking the fumes outside were gone. I personally only had a problem on Wednesday night when the extra dusty track got in my nostrils, so I don’t know if they have new and better hidden fans that work? The outside doors out the turn 3 exit were open every night from a 3 feet span to way wide, and so maybe that was the answer.

Saturday came and we had a few errands to do, as well as eat at the Ron’s hamburger place. I had Okra instead of fries with my burger and it was good. The racing starts before noon with the K features and winds down all day towards the finale. We got there watching a G feature in time to see Bobby Michnowicz transfer up with some good driving. In the F main he was going forward to a transfer spot when another car said “oh no you don’t” and banged him into the wall and his night was done.

Ryan Bernal ran 2nd in the D main and looked for more ahead of him. Unfortunately in the C main he had no luck and did not transfer, but did very well for his first time at the chili bowl. News on his 2012 season will be announced soon and I hope we see a lot of him with the CRA this year. J J Yeley, P J Jones and Jace VanderWeerd all failed to transfer from the C main as did a few others from out west, but they all did their best

Richard VanderWeerd and Rico Abreu both won B mains to transfer to the big show. It should have been a barnburner, but when Kevin and Sammy line up in front, you figure it out. Kevin was gone at the drop of the green and Sammy slid right in behind him for 55 laps. IT was 55 because Donny Ray Crawford was killed by his grandpa’s hand and the family car number was 55. Read the line-up results and you’ll see how the race went. Jerry Coons Jr came from 23rd to 8th for the best passing job. I was looking in the back to see any action because up front, there was no suspense at all. Congrats to Kevin winning his 3rd in a row, a feat I would have bet no one could accomplish with all the heroes running here. He has become a master at this little car game and beating his dad is pretty amazing.

After the race the goodbyes in the pits were many and soon it was back to the house for some rest. A few words and thanks to Tony before hitting the sack. Morning brought breakfast by our host before we got on the road back to Springfield. As soon as we hit town, Kevin and I went to his alma mater and watched them lose in OT. Dinner was ribeye, corn and baked potato fixed by my son and a quiet evening of football and B ball before turning in. after lunch with Kevin and Angie, I got on the plane and was off to Las Vegas again where Mrs Wags met me at the airport and took me to dinner at the Claimjumper. Home at last.

Things I remember most: losing my solar powered Mickey watch on the airplane trip there, one that had a lot of sentimental value for me. Some worker probably found it in the overhead bin where it fell out of my bag, and I will look on E-Bay to see if it went up for sale? More mosts: Jake Swanson’s long long crash, the Key Lime pie martini time, peach cobbler from Ike’s Chili, Kyle Larson’s win on opening night, Sammy getting the pole in the race of champions, with the last number drawn, getting my picture taken with the MAV TV lady, Getting kicked out of a popular pit for distracting them, Tequila Rose time in the grandstands, cars crashing on their own, Twin Peaks, 65 degree sunshine by day and heavy snow by night, J J Yeley launched by another car, Sammy cheering to the crowd(?), the crowds in the grandstands, the long walks in the pits and worst of all, hearing Donny Ray Crawfordwas shot by his grandpa. There were many more and to the Chili Bowl creators, keep it up and see you next year.

WAG$CA$H – THE RACE WITHIN A RACE!!! WAG$CA$H II will be at Santa Maria this year on August 11 and will be a” race within the race”. WAG$CA$H is a change from the 20 years of Wagsdash’s where every year a special race was run after the USAC/CRA main event. It always consisted of “low buck“drivers who earned Wagsbucks with the winner usually getting $2500 of an annual average purse of $18,000. The 20 years of collecting "Wagsbucks" has resulted in nearly $600,000 going to the low buck car owners, so I guess we should keep it going as long as it works.

WAG$CA$H is a new concept to continue this quest with two major changes. The first change is everyone that runs half the 6 USAC/CRA Perris races and at least one other USAC/CRA race prior to WAG$CA$H day, is eligible with one stipulation: the driver cannot have more than one USAC/CRA win! No longer do I have to figure out who has money and who is really low buck! The second change is that there will be no additional race after the feature, instead the eligible drivers/cars will sport red & white polka dot ribbons and thru out the night will earn points and the fans can be in on the race within a race format. The driver with the polka dots who finishes the highest on the night of racing, gets the WAG$CA$H trophy and the $2500 cash. All drivers in the WAG$CA$H event will run the whole show. There will be many more payouts as all drivers will receive at least $500 as in the past Wagsdash events. The number of drivers in the event will depend on how much cash is collected thruout the year. Last year’s first attempt at this format resulted in 7 cars running for the $6000 we collected. If we have $10,000 there will be about 10 cars and so on. If there are more eligible drivers than the $1000 line I’ll work with, we will draw for the cars to wear the polka dots and compete for the extra money. The eligible drivers/cars will be listed in the Wagsworld prior to the race. Money for the WAG$CA$H event will be collected thru sale of calendars, T-shirts, and other ways I come up with, and will include the regular collections from fans at tracks along the way.

On race day there will be some of the usual “Wagsdash” like events that will include an auction, a 50/50 raffle, and a tire changing event and possibly a sexy driver contest and maybe more. I will be collecting from the start of the year for this event. Probably the biggest change will be that the car owners won’t have to run an additional race and use up more tires and fuel and risk the inevitable crash that dotted past Wagsdash’s. WAG$CA$H II is on it’s way, so get involved now!

Dave Pusiteri has announced he is adding a Thursday night 360 non-wing race before the annual Trophy Cup scheduled for October 18/20. Many of the regular wing drivers will take their wing off on Thursday to run this event prior to his now famous come from the back event that pays big bucks to the overall winner. All drivers should enter the event soon, as Trophy Dave’s looking to have only about 50 cars in the one day event. The rules are just like the West Coast 360’s, so no special changes need to be made for the cars. I hope the CRA drivers are paying attention, because it is a $21,000 one day purse and you are off that weekend.

I forgot to send out invites to the first Las Vegas Wagsbash, so make you plans for Feb 11/12 weekend and come join us. Saturday night will be the Wagsbash get together and Sunday will be bowling, or casino fun or maybe a movie. Plan to stay Sunday night because the nightmare highway 15 to LA is packed, and go home Monday morning. I am looking for all the Wagtimer’s and past attendee’s to make this little trip and join us, it will be fun. RSVP 949-981-5497, text or call.

The opening race for USAC/CRA is February 25 at Perris, but not before a So Cal party on February 11 for the CRA racers and fans.

It’s been a short, but long wait over the winter, so look at the schedule and support the USAC/CRA in the 2012 season. It will be a good one!

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