SHEHEEN: The Chili Bowl, Racing Collections & More

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Ralph Sheheen

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Even though it’s the first of 12 months, January always ends up being one of the busiest racing months of the year. The Chili Bowl is a big part of the early season schedule.

According to Chili Bowl officials, 1,178 cars entered the Tulsa Shootout, which was run two weeks prior to the Chili Bowl. Another 350 cars were on hand for the 33rd Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, which was extended to six nights for the first time.

Cole Bodine was one of the best stories of the week. The 20-year-old began working for Clauson-Marshall Racing for free right out of high school. He worked for seven months, living off of what was supposed to be his college money. He eventually began receiving a paycheck along with the opportunity to show what he could do in a race car.

Bodine finished third on his preliminary night and came home 19th in Saturday’s main event.

The performance paid off, as Bodine landed a full-time ride with team owner Scott Petry.
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– We had a nice conversation with Maria Cofer, the 2018 BCRA Dirt Midget champion. When the 19-year-old isn’t racing, she is helping out on the family’s 8,000-acre dairy farm in Macdoel, Calif.

Cofer, whose high school class had only seven students, drives her father John’s car on the West Coast midget circuit. Her goal is to move east and compete on the highly competitive Midwest midget circuit.

– Mark Lowrey had an interesting sponsor — Operation Supply Drop — on his Chili Bowl midget. The organization sends video games to men and women serving in the Armed Forces. Their motto is: “Bringing fun to the troops who are deployed.” To learn more, log on to weareosd.org.

– Indy car driver Conor Daly competed in the Chili Bowl for the first time. Daly is still working on his plans for this year’s Indy 500 — and it’s not cheap. Daly said a driver needs to bring a minimum of $1.2 million to secure a competitive ride for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. (Editor’s Note: Since this was written Daly has secured a ride).

– Sheldon Haudenschild says he is locked in for the full World of Outlaws season with all three of his crew guys returning, including crew chief Tyler Swank.

He claims the familiarity with the crew is a huge advantage going into the season. “I feel like I’m a top-three guy,” he said. “I just need to put a night together.”

– Brad Sweet enjoyed a fantastic season behind the wheel last year, including winning the Knoxville Nationals. This season, Sweet will be upping his game as a race promoter.

He has three California World of Outlaws events to organize next month. The Mini-Gold Cup returns to Chico’s Silver Dollar Speedway March 15, followed by visits to the Stockton Dirt Track the following night and a March 20 race at Placerville Speedway.

Sweet has also booked four NARC sprint car events with his racing buddies Kyle Larson, Rico Abreu and Kasey Kahne committed to competing in the Aug. 21-24 races.

– We’ve been very fortunate the last few weeks to visit some very interesting private car collections. First was Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers shops in Santa Ana, Calif.

Gurney’s sons, Justin and Alex, were tremendous hosts. One could spend hours just looking at all of the photos down the main hall that leads to Dan’s office, which remains as he left it. Once inside, you have stepped through the door into the world of one of our sport’s true legends.

While a look at the famous champagne bottle with which Gurney sprayed the crowd after winning at Le Mans is a must, the cars were the real stars of this tour. Eagle Indy cars from the late ’60s, the unique Pepsi Challenger Indy car wheeled by Mike Mosley and the four-cylinder turbocharged prototype beast Gurney’s team used to dominate IMSA sports car racing during the ’90s were among the vehicles on hand.

We greatly appreciated this amazing trip back through time with one of our racing heroes.

During the Chili Bowl week, event promoter Emmett Hahn invited us to tour the Zink Ranch. John and Jack Zink were legendary car owners, with their two greatest victories coming in the Indianapolis 500.

Located outside of Tulsa, the Zink ranch is on 40,000 acres of land, including the first 3,600 acres of which were bought for a mere $1,800.

The collection includes the 1956 Indy-winning car driven by Pat Flaherty, the 1962 Trackburner, which was the first Indy car Dan Gurney drove at Indianapolis, and the 1958 Zink Watson roadster Jim Rathmann raced to victory in the Monza 500.

Also on display is the 1968 John Zink Special that Hahn used to dominate the Central Oklahoma supermodified circuit for eight years.

Our final museum tour was at Honda’s Southern California headquarters. The facility includes historical pieces such as the N600 from 1970, the first car Honda imported to the U.S. and David Bailey’s 1986 motocross championship-winning CR500.

The most spectacular section was a wall full of race cars stacked two high, including Indy cars driven by Gil de Ferran and Michael Andretti, among others.
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