TULSA, Okla. — It was 9:42 p.m. inside SageNet Center on the final night of the 38th annual Chili Bowl Nationals and Logan Seavey was already celebrating his second consecutive victory in midget racing’s premier event.
It was an unprecedented moment in Chili Bowl history, as most of the fans had made their way out of the building and into the sub-freezing temperatures by 10:30 p.m. Compared to the previous year when the 55-lap finale concluded well after midnight, the early end time was greatly appreciated by racers and fans alike.
It also came as a surprise to this first-time Chili Bowl goer, who had been forewarned about how long the nights would run, how cold it would get and how thick the fumes would be — especially on Saturday with more than 370 cars on track.
But the weeklong midget racing extravaganza was batting two-for-three, with each night wrapping up well before midnight and the fumes rarely drifting into the pit area.
From a spectator standpoint, it felt like a luxury edition of the Chili Bowl.
The single flaw of the week didn’t appear until the last 25 laps of the championship feature on Saturday night, when the quarter-mile track rubbered up and created a one-line groove around the bottom.
Not exactly the conditions that fans — or the 23 racers stacked behind Seavey — were hoping for. But in hindsight, the excitement of the preliminary nights far outweighed the disappointment of Saturday’s finale.
“I thought Monday to Friday was probably the best conditions we’ve ever seen at the Chili Bowl for five straight days,” Seavey said during his post-race appearance on the “On The Drive” podcast.
Though he was surprised at the track crew’s decision not to work the bottom of the quarter-mile ahead of the finale, he wasn’t shocked by the end result.
“The Chili Bowl has rubbered so many times, this wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time. Everyone agrees it’s not ideal,” Seavey said. “But when it rubbers, you want to be the leader, so that helped out for sure.”
Heat races, qualifiers and A mains still provided nonstop thrills throughout the week, and the energy that erupted inside SageNet Center on Thursday and Friday nights could only be described as electric.
Winners Buddy Kofoid and Spencer Bayston made statements by leading all 30 laps of their prelims, while sprint car regular Corey Day and underrated Californian Tanner Carrick made surprise trips to victory lane.
“Bayston looked better than ever this year,” Seavey said as he broke down his competition. “Corey Day was really good, his car was really stable on his prelim night and he showed it again on Saturday, keeping up with Buddy (Kofoid) and I. And that kid hardly races midgets, so that’s pretty unbelievable.”
The battles waged between Ricky Thornton Jr. and Tanner Thorson for the runner-up result on Thursday and Seavey’s charge from seventh-to-first on Friday left fans breathless.
It was also fun to see Oklahoma native Hank Davis show a wheel to Kofoid on Tuesday and lock into the championship feature for a second consecutive year —Davis won his prelim in 2023.
As a reminder of how monumental the Chili Bowl can be in one’s career, Davis’ continued success inside SageNet Center has inspired him to hit the national USAC tour this year.
All in all, as a first-time Chili Bowl goer, the exhilarating preliminary racing was the show.
And on the other side of the coin — rubbered-up race track or not — after sweeping Monday night’s Invitational Race of Champions and his Friday night prelim, there’s no doubt Seavey earned his second Golden Driller.