Leading up to last year’s Chili Bowl Nationals, Taylor Ferns put in only 10 test laps on the dirt to prepare for the esteemed midget event at Tulsa Expo Raceway in Oklahoma.
As a pavement racer in USAC Silver Crown competition, sprint cars and midgets, Ferns hadn’t driven a midget on dirt since 2014, so it all felt a bit rusty. But as the 26-year-old gears up for her preliminary feature Thursday night, her focus isn’t on how little she’s driven a dirt midget, but rather on honing her natural talent behind the wheel of a race car.
“Literally throw me in with the sharks and I’ll come up alive,” Ferns said with a laugh.
In addition to experience racing winged dirt sprint cars, Ferns has some Chili Bowl history to rely on.
She’s attended the event as a fan for many years, which mainly involved “watching, hanging out and learning.” In 2012, she made her on-track debut and later returned to race the event in ’13, ’14 and ’22. It’s her original performance that sticks with her the most, though, as she considers it to be her strongest showing.
“The people who were there, they knew that we were there,” Ferns said about her debut year. “As a matter of circumstance, we had some things go sideways and it just didn’t work out as far as our results go.”
On paper, her best finish at the Chili Bowl came in 2014 when she made it into the A-feature on her preliminary night. She came across the line in 16th. The hope in 2023 is to overcome her lack of seat time in a midget and, if all goes well, put the car in the show on Saturday night.
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Ferns will once again be driving the No. 4 midget for the legendary Bob East. The two paired up for the Chili Bowl last year, but their attempt at a Golden Driller came to an end when a crash took Ferns out of contention during Saturday’s G Main.
Ferns was on the fencepost about returning to the Chili Bowl, but when Janice East, Bob’s wife, reached out to her about racing for the team a second year, Ferns accepted the offer and got to work.
“Obviously hoping for more and looking to capitalize on what we learned as a group last year, with that being my first time back in eight years,” Ferns said. “I keep saying, I’m going all in.”
In the grand scheme of things, Ferns has more on her mind than the Chili Bowl.
She’s wisely using her time on the Tulsa dirt track to prepare for her upcoming season of full-time Silver Crown racing. The USAC schedule includes five dirt tracks and seven paved ovals, giving Ferns a need to sharpen her skills on the natural element.
“I’m using this to build off of the limited laps I had last year and as that stepping-stone for when we go testing the USAC Silver Crown car,” Ferns elaborated.
But when the helmet goes on for Thursday’s preliminary event, Ferns is looking forward to stepping up to the high-stake challenge and racing alongside drivers such as Jacob Allen, J.J. Yeley, Emerson Axsom and Brady Bacon.
After all, to Ferns, it’s the wide range of competitors that makes the Chili Bowl so unique.
“When else are you going to compete against a NASCAR driver, an IndyCar driver, a World of Outlaws driver, a midget driver and a pavement late model driver?” Ferns said. “Chili Bowl brings together people from a lot of different disciplines. There’s not a lot of races that can really say that.”