Without fail, the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals produces myriad storylines. The 37th edition of the event won by California’s Logan Seavey was no different. There was much pre-race conversation about the purse, who would ultimately appear and how the event would be impacted by any level of participant dissent.
It is fair to suggest those questions and concerns disappeared the minute the first lap was turned. Other debates that followed this year’s event reflect the same narrative in play year after year. Thus, there were predictable questions about the format, the quality of the race track and official decisions.
In other words, there is no difference between the Chili Bowl and any other race. Common themes aside, here are some of the key takeaways from another sensational week in Tulsa, Okla.
■ Years ago, the imitable A.J. Foyt – at the time unquestionably the biggest personality to compete at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – offered an important observation. Foyt reminded everyone that it was the Indianapolis 500 that made stars, not the other way around. Despite all of the conversation about the purse and speculation about who would participate in this year’s Chili Bowl, the race predictably powered forward. The pits were full as were the grandstands.
While some fans may have lamented the absence of talents such as Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, that issue was soon in the rearview mirror and in the end, the Chili Bowl was business as usual.
■ After the COVID era, this year’s Chili Bowl felt like things had truly returned to normal. The enthusiasm of the crowd was palpable. Once again it is clear that this is still the most unique short-track race in the land. It matters that it is staged in the heartland, allowing relatively easy access for everyone. It matters that it is indoors, and it matters that it takes place in January.
More than anything, the Chili Bowl is a reunion. There is always a bittersweet element to an annual event. It is difficult not to think about those who have passed, but the overriding emotion is the joy in seeing old friends.
■ The quality of the equipment at the Chili Bowl is astounding. For years the pit area has been a bit like a microcosm of an American city. To use the game Monopoly as a metaphor, it has never been difficult to ascertain who lived in Park Place and those who called Baltic Avenue home.
While this is still true to an extent, even those relegated to the dark corners of the Expo Center come far more equipped to compete than was true a decade ago.
■ The crew and car chiefs are always important, but that fact is magnified during the Chili Bowl. To be successful a driver must be equipped with a well-handling car. At this venue, handling is far more important than raw horsepower. The crew that can best gaze into the crystal ball and make adjustments on the fly is a true asset.
■ The corollary to the point above is the importance of the driver’s ability to adjust. Sure, that’s true everywhere but things happen so quickly indoors and with the number of cars competing each night this skill is invaluable. Much of the discussion between drivers is about reading the race track. In 2022, it was generally agreed upon by the podium finishers that Tanner Thorson beat them to the quick reading the race track.
■ The track surface is always a subject of conversation. There is no way a track can take the kind of beating over six nights at the Chili Bowl and not have character. For example, on Friday the surface was very slick. Nonetheless the old adage is true — the race track was the same for everyone.
Logan Seavey has been very successful in the USAC Silver Crown series and clearly knows how to pedal a race car. Chase McDermand charged from 15th to third at the completion of the 30-lap prelim feature. Not all races are won by banging the cushion and race craft is mighty important on this bullring.
■ This event is also one big party for some. Even among some participants, the Chili Bowl is a weeklong vacation with a little racing thrown in. The singing and laughing that commences the minute the checkered flag waves is entertaining. There are beads galore, strobe lights and people engaging in behavior they might later regret. That’s what makes this the Chili Bowl. Some know full well they have little chance to make the big show, but that hardly dampens their enthusiasm.
■ While this event may be a party it is also a serious auto race. Cars are still going fast and racing wheel to wheel. It is still a dangerous activity. If this wasn’t clear before, the incident involving Ashton Torgerson should have settled it once and for all. The biggest winner during the week was Torgerson.