A Glance at The Lucas Oil Chili Bowl's Monumental Growth

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A lot has changed since Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards unveiled the “Indoor Midget National Championship” in January of 1987. The race was sponsored by Bob Berryhill’s local business, The Original Chili Bowl, and the name stuck.

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The feature event from the inaugural Lucas Oil Chili Bowl.

34 years later, they’re responsible for building one of the greatest racing events known to the world. It’s not just a staple in the tight-knit, beloved community of midget racing; no, this is an extravaganza up there as one of the most premiere races in ALL of motorsports.

In just over three decades, this winter spectacle held in Tulsa, Oklahoma of all places has ballooned from off-season fun to one of the most beloved, attended, cherished, and revered races in all of the land.

Just how much has the Chili Bowl changed? Let’s take a look:

CAR COUNT: In 1987, a group of roughly 50 drivers competed in the inaugural race at what was then called the IPE Building. It took seven events for the century mark to be hit, reaching 100+ cars in 1994. Another nine years later, they finally hit 200 in 2003. Fast forward another 12 years, and they blew beyond 300 in 2015.

The event has blown up; going from five heat races in 1987 to five prelim nights in 2019. Back then, it was primarily open trailers and open space for days inside the massive ten-acre building. Now? It’s trailers on top of trailers with 300+ cars squeezed into four aisles of midgets everywhere.

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Highlights from last year's Lucas Oil Chili Bowl finale.

ATTENDANCE: When Sammy Swindell won his first of five Golden Drillers in 1990, an estimated 3,000+ fans were on hand. Since then, a ticket to the Chili Bowl is one of the hottest commodities around. The wait list is absurdly long, and tickets are passed down by generations. You get a seat? You don’t let it go.

Nowadays, the estimated crowd is beyond 15,000 spectators in a normal year.

It’s one of the most unique seating arrangements you’ll ever see. With the track solely squared off on the bottom level, there are main grandstands placed along the front stretch and the iconic, big grandstands in turn three and four on the top level. Additional seating is stretched throughout with pit grandstands and backstretch options available for pit pass holders. So many people just want to come and experience the event, they’ll bring lawn chair and watch it on the big screen in the pit area.

Of course, this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event is being held with a 75% reduction in attendance.

PRELIM NIGHTS: When it all started in 1987, only one preliminary night was required for the 50-car field. That won’t exactly work for a 300+ car field, though.

Emmett Hahn Reflects On Tulsa Growth

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Emmett Hahn talks about the growth of the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl and Tulsa Shootout.

In 1990, the event expanded to two preliminary nights, pushing the start of the week to Thursday. It ran that way for 12 years before Wednesday night was added to the ticket in 2002. A few short years later and Tuesday was on the docket in 2007. Another 12 years later, the fifth and most likely final preliminary night was included when Monday joined the lineup in 2019.

From a two-day trip to Tulsa to a weeklong vacation. 

WATCH IT FROM HOME: For years, no decades, the Chili Bowl was an in-person event only. If you weren’t there to witness it yourself, you missed it. Nowadays, that’s a thing of the past.

Starting on Monday, FloRacing begins six consecutive days of streaming the 35th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals. You can watch every lap of preliminary action from Monday-Friday on Flo, and even see Saturday’s alphabet soup from the O-Main to the C-Main, when MAVTV takes over the finale coverage.

FloRacing Expands Motorcycle Racing Offerings In 2021

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Motocross fans are in for a treat. FloRacing is eager to be expanding its offerings in the sport of motorcycle racing. 

Rico Abreu Romps On Wednesday, Punches Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Ticket

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For the first time in five years, Rico Abreu unleashed a whole brand new look on his Keith Kunz Motorsports No. 97. What didn’t change? His Wednesday night dominance.

More Take Than Give Triggers Arizona Pileup

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QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. (Jan. 13) — Brian Shirley saw the situation one way. Ricky Thornton Jr. viewed it another.In the first controversial moment of the 15th annual Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway, there was simply no middle ground reached between the two drivers who saw their hopes for victory in Wednesday night’s 30-lap Super Late Model feature dashed by an early-race tangle.The pair of top contenders — Thornton logged finishes of first and second in the miniseries’s opening-weekend events while Shirley was just a bit behind with runs of third and fourth — were battling for third place on lap seven of the A-main when their evenings went awry. Shirley dived low entering turn one and slid up the track in front of Thornton, but Thornton clipped the left side of Shirley’s car and both drivers’ machines collected fifth-place Stormy Scott of Las Cruces, N.M.After Thornton retired for a 22nd-place finish and Shirley soldiered on to place 17th in a race captured by Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., they stood in the pit area — separated by just a few stalls, in fact — looking back on the incident with differing opinions.“He saw his opportunity and took it,” Thornton said of Shirley, “and it pretty much didn’t work out.”“He could’ve hit the brakes, you know?” countered Shirley, pointedly questioning Thornton. “I don’t know what he’s thinking. I’m not saying it was all his fault because I did get in there hot, but it was because I wasn’t gonna hit him.”Shirley, 39, of Chatham, Ill., felt that he had cut his rival for position a break on the frontstretch and should have received the same treatment in return between turns one and two. The two drivers were charging hard in pursuit of second-place Jason Papich of Nipomo, Calif., with Shirley running high through turns three and four and Chandler, Ariz.’s Thornton sucked low until Thornton drifted toward the outside guardrail approaching the starter’s stand, prompting Shirley to abruptly cross over Thornton under the flagman and attempt a slider into the first and second corners.“Just coming off of four there, he was on the bottom and went straight to the wall, and I braked for him,” Shirley detailed. “Then I come down, cleared him like a mile, and he just come in there and doored us. They can watch the video. I never touched him.“I can hit the brakes, he can hit the brakes. I’m more disappointed because I braked for him and he couldn’t brake for me. It’s a two-way street.”From Shirley’s standpoint, his aggressive bid on Thornton was merely him reacting to the opening he was presented.“I made a move because when we were coming out of four, he pushed up,” Shirley said. “I was running the high side and he was running the bottom. He would’ve hit me if I wouldn’t have hit the brakes, so I moved down because I had the momentum to slide him. Instead of him turning back down to try and cross me back over he just ran into the left side of the door.“I don’t know what to say,” he continued. “I don’t know what I would’ve done any different. We wouldn’t have even been in the situation if he wouldn’t have pushed up out of four where I was already there. If he would’ve stayed on the bottom I would’ve went right by him without an issue, but he pushed out so then I had to figure out an exit plan.”Thornton, 30, certainly didn’t agree with the tactics Shirley decided to employ.“So I ran the bottom in three and four,” Thornton began. “I didn’t have all my speed down the front straightaway, and I kind of figured someone was gonna slide me. But then we entered and I thought we were good, and then he slid me, like, kind of late in the corner almost.“Watching the in-car (camera footage from his car), it looked like (Shirley) spun out, but, I think because he carried so much speed in the corner, he knew he was gonna destroy the wall so he tried to turn it sideways. When he did, he pretty much parked it (on the cushion), so then I had nowhere to go. At that point I was already back on the throttle. At that point there was no turning down or anything.”When Thornton contacted Shirley’s car, the right-rear deck and quarter-panel of Thornton’s SSI Motorsports Longhorn mount was pulled astray, leading him to limp into the infield with the sheet metal flopping along the track. Shirley’s Bob Cullen-owned XR1 Rocket was shoved into the outside wall before Scott slid into the back of both cars, eliminating him as well. Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., also slapped Shirley’s car as he passed by but was able to continue racing to a fifth-place finish.Thornton felt fortunate that his 3-race-old car escaped the crash with mostly cosmetic damage, but he was well aware that he lost an opportunity to move a step closer to the Keyser Manufacturing bonus dollars posted for winning three or more races.“It just ripped the whole right side off,” said Thornton, who, with three races remaining in the miniseries, remains alive for the bonuses of $10,000 (three wins) and $25,000 (four victories). “It got the body, left-rear shock, couple left-rear parts just from Stormy getting in the left rear.“It kind of sucks for that to happen, especially on lap six of the race or whatever it was,” he added. “I had a really good car. I took off and I was running hard, but not so hard that I was gonna kill my stuff.”While there was no love lost between the two drivers after the incident — a Thornton team member even expressed his displeasure by tossing a signal stick at Shirley’s passing car in the infield (the stick bounced off Shirley’s car and nearly struck a photographer standing nearby) — they were ready to move on to the concluding weekend of WWS action.“It is what it is,” Thornton said, “and we’ll get it fixed up and try again on Friday.”“Luckily it just looks like a lot of bodywork, but it still ruins your night,” Shirley commented. “We started 11th and was passing him for third so it wasn’t like we sucked. We’ve been trying different things, little bitty things every race we’re in. In the heat race I felt like we were horrible, and then, I hate to say, we just put the thing back to where it was when I won them races last year (three WWS features) and that’s how I went.“We’ll put it back together and hopefully next time circumstances might come out a little different.”

2021 FloRacing Drag Racing Live Stream Season Preview

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With epic king-of-the-hill style radial races, monumental payouts in big tire racing, huge purses for the bracket contenders, coveted championships up for grabs in heads-up class racing across multiple sanctioning bodies including the NMRA, NMCA, and PDRA, and so much more all on the line, 2021 should be a season to remember with plenty of wins, records, and jaw-dropping action coming up.

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Kyle Larson Leads Meseraull To Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Main Event On Tuesday

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The grass is green. The sky is blue. Kyle Larson wins Tuesday at Chili Bowl.

BREAKING: $200,000 Huset's USAC Nationals Set for Sept. 2021

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The inaugural Huset’s Speedway USAC Nationals, featuring three consecutive nights of USAC AMSOIL National 410 Sprint Car and USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget doubleheaders paying a purse totaling $200,000, will be held September 10-11-12 at Brandon, South Dakota’s Huset’s Speedway.

Cannon McIntosh Is Mr. Monday At Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals

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It took only three years for a repeat winner to surface in Monday’s preliminary program at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.

Mattox Named 2020 USAC Most Improved Driver

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For the 2020 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season, Brandon Mattox made the conscious decision to step his game up and pay his full attention toward improvement as he chased the full series tour for the first time in his decade-plus career.

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Smackdown Ups Top Prize to $15K for 2021

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Entering its 10th year, Sprint Car Smackdown will be bigger and better than ever with an increased share of $15,000 for the winner of the finale along with increased payouts throughout the field for the three-night event on August 26-27-28, 2021 at Indiana’s Kokomo Speedway.

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How to Watch: 2021 IMCA Modified Winter Race #2 at Stockton Dirt Track

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Don't miss IMCA Modifieds, SpotMods, B4's, Bombers and even a fan race!