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January 16, 2019

NASCAR guide to the Chili Bowl: Questions you’re afraid to ask

2019 Jan 16 Tony Kyle

Mention the words “Chili Bowl” to a non-race fan and they’re likely to think you’re talking about what is on that day’s lunch menu. But for those within the racing community the Chili Bowl has nothing to do with food; instead it’s one of the most competitive races in all of motorsports. The event, which began Monday night and culminates with a 55-lap race on Saturday, brings together a diverse field featuring drivers across the motorsports spectrum — including some of NASCAR’s top talents — and represents a sort of “unofficial launch” of the 2019 racing season.

For those unfamiliar with the Chili Bowl, or for those seeking to better understand the buzz surrounding the annual event, here is a primer on what you need to know.

MORE: 2019 Chili Bowl Nationals preview

What exactly is the Chili Bowl?

The Chili Bowl Nationals is a multi-day event that sees drivers from around the world wheel Midget cars on a temporary quarter-mile dirt track constructed inside the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Okla. This year, 360 drivers representing 33 states and five countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States) are entered.

How does the format work?

Because of the volume of entries, multiple preliminary races are held Monday through Friday where each night two drivers lock themselves into the 24-car main event held on Saturday. That is the straightforward answer, though the actual procedure of how the field is whittled down each night to determine who advances out of each heat is far more complicated. Even the most ardent fan can be confused by the “alphabet soup” format that not only includes a driver’s finishing position but also has an element that takes into account how many passes they made in a specific heat. Honestly, if you would like a detailed breakdown the best thing to do is read this step-by-step process click this link.

How did the Chili Bowl did it get its now well-known name?

A race coined the “Chili Bowl” would seemingly have an interesting backstory on how its name came to be. In actuality, however, there is a pretty straightforward reason for how the Chili Bowl got its moniker when it was conceived by co-founders Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards: Sponsorship. When the first event was held in 1987, Bob Berryhill came on board to serve as the primary backer through his family-owned food company, The Original Chili Bowl. Berryhill continued sponsoring the race for the next three years and by that time the name stuck. And 33 years after its inception, the race continues to be called the Chili Bowl.

What is the difference between a stock car and the Midget cars used in this event?

As opposed to a NASCAR stock car, which is heavier and bulkier, a midget car is quite nimble with a high power-to-weight ratio. Midget cars also have open wheels, a feature that often results in drivers banging wheels during races causing cars to flip. During Chili Bowl week the number of cars that tumble are tallied with an official “flip count.”

What is Tony Stewart’s role?

A common sight at the Chili Bowl is Tony Stewart, himself a two-time race-winner, meticulously inspecting the racing surface. Not because he trying to glean advantage in pursuit of a third victory, but because the three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion is in charge of track preparation. It is a role the Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner takes quite seriously. Stewart begins grooming the track two weeks before the event, and during race week he devotes countless hours each day to maintaining the track with intent care.

What is the trophy that the winner receives?

The Golden Driller is a 76-foot tall statue of an oil worker stationed outside the River Spirit Expo Center, representing an industry synonymous with the Tulsa area. It is the sixth-tallest statue in the United States, and Oklahoma recognizes it as a state monument. Thus, when a trophy needed to be designed for the Chili Bowl it was natural that the winner receive a smaller version of The Golden Driller.

Who are some drivers entered with NASCAR connections?

There are several drivers with direct ties to NASCAR among the gaggle competing this week. Christopher Bell, who won a rookie-record seven Xfinity Series races in 2018, is the two-time defending champion and is a strong contender to score a third consecutive victory. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson is again entered and he has made it known how badly he wants to add a Chili Bowl win to his extensive résumé. Larson locked himself into Saturday’s main event with a dominant victory Tuesday night.

Other NASCAR drivers (past or present) entered include Rico Abreu, Justin Allgaier, Alex Bowman, Chase Briscoe, Landon Cassill, Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and JJ Yeley.

Who are some of the other prominent drivers entered?

No driver has won more Golden Drillers than Sammy Swindell, who is back to pursue a sixth title this year. Bell (2017-2018), Abreu (2015-2016), Tracy Hines (2005), who previously competed full-time in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, and Tim McCreadie (2006) are the other former winners entered.

Also worth noting is IndyCar driver Conor Daly; Karsyn Elledge, the niece of Dale Earnhardt Jr.; 2018 Knoxville Nationals winner Brad Sweet; and Toyota Racing Development prospect Logan Seavey, who’s drawn comparisons to Bell.