Roger Diez: Chili Bowl gets the year’s racing underway
We may have four weeks until the Daytona 500, and a week to go until the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but racing has already begun in 2020. Yes, the Chili Bowl in Oklahoma, the big annual Midget racing extravaganza, got underway last Monday. The event features 328 Midget racers and five nights of qualifying and preliminary races leading up to tonight’s big 55-lap run for the Golden Driller trophy. NASCAR’s Kyle Larson won Tuesday night’s A Main, locking him into a spot for tonight’s title bout. Christopher Bell, who has won the Chili Bowl title the last three years, won the Race of Champions and Thursday’s A Main, either of which clinches a spot in tonight’s finale. Local driver Tanner Thorson of Minden, 2019 Race of Champions winner, finished eighth in the race this year after recuperating from serious injuries suffered in a highway crash last March. And Buddy Kofoid, who made his sprint car debut locally at the age of 11, finished third on Thursday, narrowly missing an automatic transfer to tonight’s A Main.
Additional NASCAR drivers on the Chili Bowl entry list are Alex Bowman, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Newman, Ryan Briscoe, JJ Yeley, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Ryan Ellis. Rico Abreu, who drove in NASCAR’s Truck series for a couple of seasons, won Wednesday night to advance to the Saturday A Main. IndyCar drivers entered for the Midget classic are Conor Daly, Santino Ferrucci, and James Davison, and World of Outlaws stars Ronny Schatz, Brad Sweet, Daryn Pittman, and David Gravel are also entrants. If you are lucky enough to get MAVTV, you can watch all of tonight’s action starting at 5:30 p.m. PST. The scheduled three-hour broadcast will include the C Mains, B Mains, and the A Main.
While Christopher Bell was going for his fourth straight Chili Bowl victory, Erik Bell (no relation) was at Miami-Homestead Speedway conducting a two-day test of the Next Gen car that will be the NASCAR Cup standard for 2021 and beyond. Jones is the third NASCAR Cup driver to test the new design, and the first on a 1.5-mile track. Austin Dillon had a test at the .75-mile Richmond oval in October and Joey Logano tested at the one-mile Phoenix track in December. After two days behind the wheel, Jones’ takeaways were that the car has the potential for more mechanical grip than the current car but less aero grip, particularly at the rear. He also commented favorably on the new sequential shifter, especially its usefulness on road courses. Sequential shifting has been in use in open wheel and sports cars for some years now. NASCAR development tends to move slowly, given how long it took to embrace safety initiatives and fuel injection. (That last comment is mine, not Jones’). A driver yet to be named will test the Next Gen car at the two-mile Auto Club Speedway in March. That test will feature the Phase 3 prototype, which is currently under construction. NASCAR’s wind tunnel testing has included diffusers to create more rear downforce, and these will presumably be on the Phase 3 car. The current prototype will be used to simulate traffic and drafting situations.
Finally, Fernley 95A Speedway has a new owner. I’ve been informed that Sam Marson of Nature’s Bakery has bought the oval track from Dan Simpson. I’ve reached out to Sam to interview him about his plans for the track and hope to be able to share that next week. Preliminary info has a new motocross track in the works, and repaving of the road course in May. The 2020 oval track race schedule is already up on the track’s Facebook page.