IMS Staff Photographer Chris Jones was on-site all week at the 30th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl presented by General Tire in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Here are his final observations and photos.
Bryan Clauson was having a perfect race weekend until Rico Abreu took control late in Saturday’s Chili Bowl Midget National feature race.
Clauson’s first night on the track was Friday when he won his heat race, won his qualifying race, won the final race of the night to earn a spot in Saturday’s feature and then won the pole dash to earn the top spot for Saturday’s main event. In that 55-lap feature race, Bryan took the lead on Lap 10 from Christopher Bell, but on Lap 45 Rico Abreu (the winner on Wednesday night) got around him and held the lead to the checkered for his second consecutive Chili Bowl National feature win. Rico then thrilled the fans with epic donuts in the fourth turn.
Looking back to Friday, there were 86 cars vying for the three guaranteed spots in Saturday’s feature. Clauson had a dominating night to win the Friday feature, with 2009 Chili Bowl winner Tim McCreadie and Brickyard 400 veteran Kasey Kahne rounding out the top three. Friday’s racing was much like the other nights with a lot of close wheel-to-wheel action.
On Saturday, all drivers returned for a chance to fight for the remaining 12 starting spots in the feature race. With 335 cars back on the track Saturday, there were 26 elimination races prior to the feature. The first elimination race started at 9:50 a.m. – more than 14 hours before the final race ended. Every race meant something as drivers had to finish near the top of the field to continue on to the next elimination round.
Sarah Fisher and her brother-in-law Kyle O’Gara were back on the track Saturday. By virtue of similar results in their preliminary nights, Sarah and Kyle started their day in the same I-Main race. In order to advance on to the next round, each had to finish in the top four. Kyle finished second to move on, but unfortunately Sarah finished sixth and her 2016 Chili Bowl was over. In the H-Main, Kyle finished out of the top 4, ending his Chili Bowl.
Here are some observations from the event:
• Each of the four nights I was there, the grandstands were full with hardcore race fans. Each night the crowd in the pits grew bigger and bigger. The atmosphere was amazing, especially on Saturday.
• The talent level of the drivers was high, and the cream rose to the top. The top two finishers were past Chili Bowl winners.
• The event staff did a great job all week of keeping the event moving. Unlike a pavement track, a dirt track needs constant attention to keep the surface race-ready. The track officials had their hands full – according to the Chili Bowl website, 59 cars flipped during the five days of racing.
• Like the Indy 500, the Chili Bowl has many of its own traditions. The promotors know how to put on a good show and the fans keep coming back.
• Rico Abreu has a great future in front of him. He received the most cheers and was clearly the fan favorite, while Sammy Swindell continued to receive the most boos.
• It was interesting to see the variety of body styles and engines on the track. The cars seemed to be built as strong as tanks, and racing at the Chili Bowl is definitely a contact sport.
• Shooting at the Chili Bowl for four days was a great way to kickoff my 2016 race season. Every hardcore race fan should have the Chili Bowl on their bucket list. Where else will you find stars of NASCAR and IndyCar mixing it up with the top short-track open wheel drivers?