TULSA, Okla. — The ramp is quiet now, dusty and devoid of the people and cars that crowded it a few minutes earlier. Several yards away from the bottom of the ramp a victory celebration is at full song, while in the other direction teams fill the sprawling QuikTrip Center with the sound of gear being loaded for the trip home.
The 25th running of the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals is history, and for the third-consecutive year a man named Swindell stood in victory lane. It was Sammy in 2009, then son Kevin becoming the first driver in event history to clinch back-to-back victories.
There are a couple of impressive elements stated in the previous paragraph; the first is about this amazing event, and the second has to do with a family’s recent dominance of it.
To create a motorsports event in these modern times that can endure and grow across 25 annual outings is remarkable. Everything conspires against you; the economy, the fickle tastes of an ever-changing fan base, the elements, rival promoters and innumerable logistical challenges. But event founders Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards have endured, indeed.
Every seat was full. The racing was again dramatic and close. The people, as they filed from this building, were smiling.
One of the key reasons the Chili Bowl has become one of the greatest motorsports events in the world is that Hahn and Edwards are smart enough not to listen to everybody telling them what they “need” to do.
But look around…how many great tracks and events in our sport have been “improved” so much that they aren’t around anymore?
No, boys…just leave it alone, and work on making another 25 years.
Maybe in that span of time somebody will figure out how to dethrone the Swindell family. There were 256 cars this year at the Chili Bowl, and team Swindell finished first and second. Think about that for a moment…256 cars and your two cars beat ’em all.
Some will say that such dominance will “ruin” the event, but history teaches us otherwise. What will likely happen in 2012 is that the audience will watch the events unfold with a keen eye on who can beat Sammy and Kevin. They will identify some favorites — allow me to suggest Bryan Clauson and Michael Pickens as suitable candidates — who have the juice to conquer this challenging event.
Some will come to see if Sammy can win his sixth Driller trophy; some will come to see if Kevin can make it an amazing three straight. And yet others will come with the idea that watching them get taken down a notch would be sweet drama.
All of this, of course, is wonderful for the event itself. Drama and rivalry have powered motorsports since the beginning, and the Chili Bowl continues to have plenty of both.
Open those doors and let this place air out, and move the dirt to the big pile where it can sit all year in mute silence. We’ll need it again next January, when this great event lines it up for another shot.
Twenty-five years? That’s a good start.
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