TULSA, Okla. – Driver and team owner Robert Dalby will venture into uncharted waters during the upcoming Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, Jan. 11-16 inside the River Spirit Expo Center.
For the first time since moving his racing operation from California to Indiana, Dalby will field three cars out of his own shop, including the familiar No. 4 Spike-Speedway Toyota that he’ll pilot himself during the Super Bowl of Midget Racing.
Dalby’s other two Chili Bowl entries will be wheeled by fellow Californians Jesse Colwell and Eddie Tafoya Jr., who will pilot the No. 14 and No. 51t Spike-Speedway Toyota cars, respectively.
It’s a big effort, particularly since Dalby spent most of this year adapting to the challenges of life on the road with the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series, but it’s a challenge he’s looking forward to.
“I have the equipment and I have the guys to do (multiple cars) for the Chili Bowl, and it just came down to a couple people asking me where I finally decided to do it,” Dalby said. “I’d been talking to Jesse all year. He was actually supposed to run the BC39 for me before that race got canceled. And then I was going to have him run the (Jason) Leffler (Memorial) for me before he broke his ankle in the middle of the fall there. So we’ve really just been waiting for a precise time to run Jesse, and Tafoya is another one who really has grown with his sprint car stuff on the west coast and I wanted to give him a shot.
“They’re both good people and I think it’ll be a fun deal, but I just want to expand our program and this is a logical way to do that, at least for the biggest midget race we have,” Dalby continued. “It’s not going to be easy – things never are inside that building – but I’m ready for the opportunity and excited about it.”
Dalby has one prior Chili Bowl feature start, which came in a Morris Motorsports entry in 2019, when he raced in through a B-main and finished 20th in the 55-lap finale.
His USAC scorecard featured 18 starts, with one top-five and five top-10 finishes through the season. Dalby’s best effort was a fourth-place run at the Southern Illinois Center during the Shamrock Classic.
Colwell’s jump to Robert Dalby Motorsports comes off a promising Chili Bowl this year with Steve Reynolds that was scuttled by bad luck, ending his attempt in the second C-main.
This year will mark his fourth Chili Bowl appearance and the fourth different team that Colwell has raced for inside the Expo Center. His prior runs in Tulsa came for Brandywine Auto Repair (2017), Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports (2019) and Reynolds’ Ripper Racing Team (2020).
Colwell, in particular, is a driver that Dalby is excited to have onboard for this year’s Chili Bowl.
“Jesse is always on the gas and everyone who has watched him knows he’s not afraid to get aggressive,” Dalby said. “I think he’ll really be able to show a lot of people what he’s capable of in our car next month and I was really glad we got his deal done.”
Tafoya, 23, is returning to Tulsa for his second Chili Bowl appearance in January. He drove in last year’s event for A.J. Felker, making it to a J-main on Saturday, and ran part time with the USAC National Sprint Car Series this summer.
“I’ve just been noticing he’s been really smooth and getting a lot better behind the wheel,” said Dalby of Tafoya. “When I lived in California, his shop was 10 minutes from ours, so we’ve always been somewhat tight. I’m excited to have him and I really think he can help elevate our team beyond where we’ve been.”
Dalby said his goals for the team are different for each individual car, and he ranked Colwell equal to his personal car when discussing their prospects of making the 55-lap championship feature.
“I’ve got them all separated individually. With Tafoya, I just want to get him comfortable and give him a good car so he can improve on his run from last year. And then for me, I just see it as a race where I can enjoy being back in my own car and focus on making the guys that are running for me faster,” Dalby noted. “I feel like being a driver and owner is a big positive in that goal, because I have a fresh memory of what they’re dealing with out on the track and can try to give them someone to lean on if they need it, driving wise. I can understand the feedback car-wise as well, which is really important in Tulsa.
“With Jesse, though, I feel like the sky is the limit,” he continued. “I know he hasn’t really raced in a bit, but if he can quickly get back in the seat and be comfortable, I can get the car close. At that point, if we can do that, there’s no reason we can’t be in the main with him on Saturday night.”
Dalby’s three-pronged assault on the Chili Bowl will kick off with practice on Monday, Jan. 11.
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