TULSA, Okla. – True to its billing, Sunday night’s Racers for Autism event at Cain’s Ballroom featured a fun toast and plenty of roasting by its four hosts, all while raising money for a charitable cause.
Blake Anderson, Tyler Courtney, Rico Abreu and Conor Daly tossed plenty of humorous jabs among each other during the four-hour extravaganza, leaving those in attendance with smiles plastered on their faces and putting plenty of laughter in the air along the way.
The night started with Anderson introducing the trio of racers and declaring a challenge for the driver who could raise the most money for autism awareness in their donation bucket over the course of a two-hour timespan, leading all three to play to the crowd while gently trying to sabotage the other two.
Perhaps one of the more memorable moments during the night came when Daly approached Kevin Thomas Jr. for a donation. Thomas quickly looked over his shoulder, offering a glance at wife Whitney before responding quietly to Daly’s query.
A moment later, Daly was in front of Whitney Thomas, bucket outstretched in front of her.
“He told me I needed to come ask you,” Daly said with a grin.
The plea worked, though Daly didn’t ultimately end up winning the donation war in the end. That honor went to Courtney, who topped the three-way battle by five dollars and a Starbucks gift card.
Courtney was presented with a celebratory gift bag from Racers for Autism as a result of his victory, which he joked gives him a leg up going into the bulk of the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
“It’s the first win of Chili Bowl week, right?” Courtney quipped. “No, this is a cool deal, and all three of us had a lot of fun tonight. It’s for a great cause and I’m glad we were able to raise a lot of money for autism awareness and support here again this year.”
– Among the conversations held on the ballroom stage Sunday night was discussion about Conor Daly’s Chili Bowl debut, which marks just the third dirt midget start of his racing career.
Daly previously drove in the BC39 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Junior Knepper 55 at DuQuoin’s Southern Illinois Center last year, but now moves to midget racing’s biggest stage this week.
The five-time Indianapolis 500 starter noted he has a simple goal for his attempt at the Chili Bowl.
“I just don’t want to be in the last main, whatever letter that is,” Daly noted. “I had a rough ride in my first two starts and still have a lot to learn … but I’m happy to be here and looking forward to some fun here.”
– Daly also took a playful shot at his IndyCar Series comrades, as he’s the first current representative of the Indy car ranks to participate at the Chili Bowl in several years.
Former IndyCar Series team co-owner Sarah Fisher raced in the event in 2015 and 2016, while Tony Stewart’s 1998 A-main start is believed to be the last time a current Indy car driver cracked the starting field for the finale.
Daly didn’t hesitate to call out his colleagues and sound the cry for someone to join him in Tulsa in the future.
“All the other IndyCar drivers have said, ‘Oh yeah, I might do that,’ but none of them have ever had the balls to actually come and do this,” Daly joked. “I just decided to do it. It took me like three weeks to think about it, because it’s the opposite of everything I’ve ever driven, but I’m up for a challenge.”
– Abreu, meanwhile, is chasing his third Golden Driller during this week’s Chili Bowl, a mark that would put him third all-time on the race’s win list behind only Sammy Swindell (five) and Kevin Swindell (four).
The St. Helena, Calif., native hasn’t won the Chili Bowl since 2016, but feels he has what it takes to get back to victory lane at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
“I tell everyone when they recognize me that the atmosphere here is like nothing else you can experience,” Abreu said. “It’s so awesome to compete at … and then to win it in back-to-back years was insane. It’s only getting tougher to win here, but I believe we’ll have a shot to get back on the map.”
– Tim Dugger was the night’s featured performer, while the three drivers raised more than $3,400 in donations between them.
Additional proceeds from a silent auction and several live auctions will be totaled up as well, with all donations benefiting Today’s Champions – Empowering Those With Autism.
The 501(c)3 non-profit charity was established by Ben and Beth Hodgin in honor of the late Bryan Clauson’s friendship with their son Ben William Hodgin, who overcomes the challenges of living with autism spectrum disorder in his everyday life.
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