Roger Diez: Minden’s Tanner Thorson racing at Chili Bowl
Last week my countdown to the 2021 racing season neglected to mention the annual January staple, the Chili Bowl. It’s the Midget racing world series, super bowl, and world cup all rolled into one and takes place at the Tulsa Expo Raceway in Oklahoma. This year there are 315 entries including one of our own, Tanner Thorson of Minden. He will be joined by a host of NASCAR regulars including 2020 NASCAR Cup champion Chase Elliott, 2020 Chili Bowl winner Kyle Larson, 2017-19 Chili Bowl winner Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Brett Moffitt, Ryan Newman, Garrett Smithley, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., J.J. Yeley, and former Cup star Kasey Kahne. Qualifying races will run Monday, Jan. 11 through Friday, Jan. 15 with the feature races on Saturday, Jan. 16. They will air on MAV-TV which is available on Charter, DIRECTV, DISH, and AT&T U-Verse TV. Check your provider for channel numbers and times.
I was hoping the schedules for the major sanctioning bodies were firm, but there has already been some slippage. The Formula 1 season opener in Australia looks like it will be postponed until later in the season due to Australia’s 14-day quarantine requirement for visitors. And the IndyCar kickoff on March 7 at St. Petersburg has been moved as well. The season with now start on April 11 at Barber Motorsports Park with the St. Pete race a week later on April 25. So far, the NASCAR and NHRA schedules remain unchanged and IMSA’s Jan. 22-24 Roar before the 24 is still on the calendar.
The upcoming season will be the last for NASCAR’s current generation of cars. The Next Gen car, the boldest step forward in the sanctioning body’s several iterations of car design, was initially to debut in 2021. Then a nationwide pandemic intervened. Prototypes of the new car underwent several tests in 2020, the most telling perhaps a two-car test at Charlotte on both the oval and the “roval” road course. Feedback from test drivers Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch indicated that the car was excellent on the road course but still needed work in oval configuration. That led me to think that perhaps the change to NASCAR’s 2021 schedule to include more road courses might be an indication of what’s to come, both for the series’ cars and the tracks. And since I have a preference for road courses, having cut my racing teeth on them, I came up with a few suggestions.
In addition to the seven road course races on this year’s schedule, I’d like NASCAR to consider the following for 2022 and beyond:
Current tracks at Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Homestead all have infield road courses. I know because I’ve announced races at all three. So how about adding those to the schedule? As far as natural road courses go, Mid-Ohio already runs Xfinity races and Laguna Seca in Monterey used to host Winston West events back in the 70s. Road Atlanta would be another excellent choice, being in traditional NASCAR country. And how about adding a street race? Long Beach comes to mind, because it would be highly entertaining to watch drivers try to negotiate the Queen’s hairpin leading to the front straight. Those are my personal thoughts. What are yours?
Finally, we bid farewell to a couple of racers who recently passed. First, Pat Patrick of Patrick Racing, who won three Indy 500s as a car owner. He was 91. And John Paul Jr., who won races in both CART and the IRL as well as winning both the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1982. He succumbed to Huntington’s Disease at 60 after a 20-year battle.