Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2022 Chili Bowl Nationals

The Headline(s)

Tanner Thorson breaks NASCAR’s stranglehold on the Chili Bowl Nationals, the world’s most prestigious midget race.

How it Happened

2022 Chili Bowl Nationals
Where: Tulsa Expo Raceway – Tulsa, Okla. (streamed on Flo Racing and MAVTV Plus)
Winner’s Purse: $10,000

For the second year in a row, Christopher Bell was running down the leader of the Chili Bowl A-main in the closing laps. For the second year in a row, the turn 4 cushion reached out and bit him. Inside of five laps to go, Bell was forced to save his car as Tanner Thorson, who wrestled the lead from polesitter Bell roughly 10 laps prior, drove off into the Tulsa night, scoring his first career Chili Bowl win while breaking a five-year streak of A-main wins by Bell and Kyle Larson.

Bell led more than 30 laps to open the A-main, but was under pressure from Thorson almost immediately. Both drivers struggled in lapped traffic early on a track that was heavily watered and reworked after taking rubber during the B-mains. When the upper grove came in, Bell initially drove away from the field, with Thorson catching back up and taking the lead soon after a lap 30 caution when contender Justin Grant flipped battling Larson for position.

Thorson had a close call of his own, narrowly avoiding a flipping Brady Bacon on lap 44 while battling Bell for the race lead.

In addition to snapping Larson and Bell’s winning streak, Thorson also became the first driver in eight years to win the Chili Bowl without a Toyota engine under the hood.

Success Stories

Thorson. See above. 

It seemed like ages elapsed between the A-main and the day’s largest serving of alphabet soup, but the ageless Sammy Swindell tied the all-time Chili Bowl record for climbing the ladder, going on a six-feature streak from the N-mains all the way to an I before an early collision in his I feature ended his run. 

A couple of other notables in the soup. Waterman, Ill.’s Jack Routson mirrored Swindell for much of the morning, going from the N up to a J, as did Keith Kunz Motorsports driver Tucker Klaasmeyer (more on that later). Also, this year’s Rookie of the Year Corey Day didn’t climb as many rungs, but had an impressive run to the A-main.

Oklahoma native Kaylee Bryson made history of her own by becoming the first woman to qualify for the Chili Bowl A-main, taking advantage of a B-main field that fell asleep in the opening eight laps and left her to rocket on the high side of the track from 10th to the race lead. By the time the rest of the field adjusted, the bottom groove had rubbered out, and a quick lane change left Bryson untouchable up front.

On the one hand, Justin Grant won two feature races this weekend by besting NASCAR Cup Series regulars, holding off Kyle Larson to win the VIROC invitational Monday night and then besting Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to win Friday’s preliminary feature. Having said that…

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Larson very clearly got the better of Grant in the A-main, throwing a wicked slider in turn 2 on lap 30 that saw Grant jump the cushion in turn 2 and flip while running in the top five. 

Owasso, Okla.’s Brandon Thomas endured/caused the scariest incident of the week, however. Crashing early in the morning’s first P-main, Thomas’s helmet flew clean off his head and out of  his racecar as a result. How this didn’t result in an immediate disqualification I’ll never know.

Kyle Bellm may not have had the hardest wreck of the day on Saturday, but he definitely seemed to roll the longest, bouncing nearly the length of the backstretch in the first N-main.

On second thought, Thomas gets credit for scariest incident on the track. Off of it, at least according to competitor Joe Wirth, Goodyear, Ariz.’s Logan Calderwood was responsible for gunning his car up the ramp to the Chili Bowl pits and triggering an incident that saw both Wirth’s father and Keith Kunz himself get hit by his racecar. 

I’m going to be cautious in saying I know what happen, because Flo Racing’s cameras didn’t capture the incident and reporter Scotty Cook was undecipherable in describing what happened during the broadcast, but if Wirth’s account is correct then consider this exhibit B in why the Chili Bowl’s blatant cash-grab move to allow drivers under the age of 16 to race needs to be reversed immediately. 

See also
Thinkin' Dirty: 2022 Chili Bowl Prelims

That’s not to say that Exhibit A didn’t have anything to say. Steven Snyder Jr., who triggered the only reported fight of the 2022 Chili Bowl by wrecking two cars in the first B-main Tuesday, returned to the track in Saturday’s second J-main, flipped his midget, and in doing so collected KKM teammate Tucker Klaasmeyer, ending his five-feature soup run. 

NASCAR Regulars

Cup Series regular Christopher Bell led the most laps in Saturday’s A-main, but a troublesome bout with the turn 4 cushion cost him a likely victory for the second year running.

Part-time Xfinity Series competitor Tanner Berryhill couldn’t make the high side work and finished eighth, failing to transfer from the second D-main.

Cup Series regular Alex Bowman finished second in the first C-main and improved six positions during the first B-main, but fell four spots short of transferring to the main event.

Former ARCA Series winner Travis Braden earned one transfer, scraping through the first M-main, then failing to transfer from the first L.

Cup Series regular Chase Briscoe lost the final transfer spot to Spencer Bayston inside of two laps to go in the first C-main on Saturday and failed to advance.

2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott won the hangtime award for his flip in the first F-main, failing to transfer up the ladder but fortunately walking away from his wreck unscathed.

Xfinity Series competitor Ryan Ellis went for a spin during the first L-main and failed to transfer.

Xfinity Series competitor Santino Ferrucci endured a violent wreck during hot laps Friday that sent him to the hospital with a concussion. Ferrucci was unable to contest the alphabet soup Saturday.

Truck Series regular Carson Hocevar earned one transfer, going from J to I in the soup on Saturday.

Former Cup Series competitor Kasey Kahne lost his heat race to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in a photo finish Friday. Kahne never was able to break out of the mid-pack in the second B-main, spinning out with three laps to go and missing the A-main by two spots.

Former Truck Series winner Todd Kluever earned one transfer, going from O to N in the soup on Saturday. 

Defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson struggled to crack the top five all feature long Saturday and left Tulsa without a feature win.

Truck Series competitor Jesse Little flipped coming to the checkers of the second M-main and failed to transfer.

Defending ARCA West Series champion Jesse Love faded from a transfer spot in the first D-main, eventually spinning out with five laps to go.

2008 Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman was a force in his heat race on Friday, but never recovered from a mid-pack start in Saturday’s first C-main and failed to advance.

Cup Series regular Ricky Stenhouse Jr. prevailed in his heat race by inches Friday, then came within a turn or two of besting USAC regular Justin Grant for the preliminary feature win that night.

Stenhouse finished ninth in Saturday’s A-main.

Xfinity Series competitor JJ Yeley dropped a position but still transferred from the first F-main; however, Yeley was unable to replicate his historic F-A run this year.

Fanning the Flames

My God did MAVTV make a mess of the Chili Bowl’s closing features. Where to start?! The drone footage was overused and blurry when it was used. The cameras kept cutting in and out, with loading screens visible during the race broadcast. Pit reporter Jim Tretow stuck a microphone in Jesse Love’s face after handing Love his own microphone. The network dragged out driver intros with interview questions with drivers coming off the stage, not utilizing an hour-long track prep session prior to do so.

Graphics in the second B-main stated (incorrectly) that Kasey Kahne transferred to the A-main. But most notably, and most egregiously, the winning pass by Thorson on Bell was not actually broadcast. Total failure. MAVTV is lucky that the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series is proprietary to its owner Lucas Oil, because if not for that I’d consider canceling my subscription after this farce of a telecast. And it was that bad with Bob Dillner not even onsite.

Though Flo Racing did a markedly better job with their coverage of Chili Bowl prelims, I will echo a complaint I had in my 2021 writeup on the Chili Bowl from last year, namely, why they feel the need to mix up the commentary booth on Saturday mornings after a week of consistency. Though to be fair, after listening to Scotty Cook completely flub the call of the Calderwood/Wirth incident atop the ramp, maybe the lesser of two evils was to have him in the booth?

Rather than spending money on a plan to upgrade the flip counter at the Expo Center to include LED lights and a siren, maybe WWT Raceway could sponsor a “time limit” clock for the alphabet soup instead.

For all the hubhub about the Chili Bowl video board and it enabling defensive driving not germane to good midget racing, I can’t help but think the much ballyhooed story that it is being moved to turn 2 for the 2023 race is a big nothing burger. The video board didn’t lead the field in the second B-main to block Bryson’s banzai charge to the front using the high side. It didn’t save Bell from jumping the cushion in the closing laps. Tyler Courtney said it best on Friday, all the change means is “we’ll have to find something else to complain about.”

Last year’s most notable ejection from the Chili Bowl grandstands came from a frontstretch patron that refused to comply with the Expo Center’s masking requirement. This year, the most notable removal came, unsurprisingly, in turn 2, with a man removed for allegedly throwing marshmallows onto the racing surface because he unhappy with the patrons in the “Rowdies” section throwing said marshmallows at him.

While I agree with numerous fans on social media that it was disappointing to see such widely acclaimed “race” fans seemingly focused on anything but, I have to give Chili Bowl credit. Because they do include a proper disclaimer about Rowdies experience if relying on a pit pass for seating.

Between fans that were unhappy with the realities of Tulsa’s general admission seating and the annual meltdown about the broadcast split between Flo Racing and MAVTV, if there’s one lesson for race fans to learn from the 2022 Chili Bowl, it’s read the fine print. It’s far more important than the selling price.

Numbers Game

2 – estimated truckloads of dirt lost during each running of the Chili Bowl Nationals (the dirt is reused year after year)

65 – final flip count for the week

381 – entries that signed in for Saturday’s competition (395 was the total entry list on Monday)

$10,000 – winner’s purse for winning the A-main. Or, to look at it another way…

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): This year’s edition of the Chili Bowl gets four Marshall Brewing Company Golden Driller Wheats. The A-main was a good, solid race, with Thorson and Bell settling the feature fair and square. That finale was soured by underwhelming B-mains, a mid-program lag after Swindell’s soup run ended and a horrendous broadcast by MAVTV of the evening’s conclusion.

Up Next: Dirt race fans needing a fix can hustle back to Flo Racing, with Sunday night marking the $25,000-to-win finale of the Wild West Shootout in New Mexico.

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