KENNEDY: 2020 Chili Bowl In Hindsight

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Tim Kennedy

LOS ANGELES – The 34th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals was another classic.

Kyle Larson became a first-time A-main winner and earned his first coveted Golden Driller trophy in his 13th Chili Bowl and ninth start in Saturday’s A-feature. Making his victory even sweeter was the fact he drove a midget he owns instead of one owned by Keith Kunz, his long-time midget car owner.

The memorable battle between Larson and his friendly rival and former teammate Christopher Bell reminded old-timers of USAC’s 1960s duels between A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti.

Bell led the first 28 laps and finished a close second to Larson, who led the final 17 laps. Bell was trying to win his fourth consecutive Chili Bowl and tie four-time winner Kevin Swindell (2010-13). Bell also switched rides in 2020 from Keith Kunz Motorsports to Tucker-Boat Motorsports.

Larson and Bell lead swapping duels each year in Tulsa are remisiscent of their slide job, lead swapping duels in the 2017 and ’18 Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway. Their on-track duels are worth the price of admission.

“Sorry NASCAR and Daytona, but this is the biggest effing race I’ve ever won. I hope to win in Daytona in a few weeks, but this is badass,” Larson said at the time.

It was redemption for Larson, who lost the 2019 Chili Bowl on the last lap when Bell passed him in turn two. This time Larson passed Bell on lap 39 and led the final 17 laps. He won by .831 seconds over Bell.

Larson became the 21st different Chili Bowl A-main winner in the 34th event at the indoor quarter-mile. The unique block-long oil industry exposition building houses the quarter-mile clay oval at one end of the building and all pits, race car haulers and vendor booths in the rest of the building. It covers 10 acres, is 450,000 square feet and seats 15,000.

The Chili Bowl has grown tremendously since I attended Chili Bowl’s five and six in 1991-92. Six past Chili Bowl champions raced in 2020. This year there were 360 midgets entered (including backup cars) and 343 raced during the six days of competition from Jan. 13-18. Drivers came from 40 states and four foreign nations — Australia (three), Canada (one), England (one) and New Zealand (two). There were nine female drivers and 68 Chili Bowl rookies. There were 73 flips prior to Saturday’s five televised races and four more in the C, B and A events for a new Chili Bowl record of 77, which topped last year by two flips.

Leading states supplying Chili Bowl drivers this year were: Oklahoma – 68, California – 50, and Indiana – 23. Rather than list the 40 different home states of the 343 drivers it is easier to list the 10 states that were not represented. They were: Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Utah and Virginia. The 24 drivers in Saturday’s A-feature came from eight states as follows: California – eight, Oklahoma – five, Illinois and Indiana – three each and one each from Kansas, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas, plus one from New Zealand.

More than 50 USAC drivers raced, including national stars: Rico Abreu, Brady Bacon, Jerry Coons Jr., Tyler Courtney, Dave Darland, Justin Grant, C.J. Leary, Jason McDougal, Thomas Meseraull, Logan Seavey, Kevin Thomas Jr., Tanner Thorson, Chris Windom and Zeb Wise. Three Indianapolis 500 veterans — Conor Daly and Chili Bowl rookies James Davison and Santino Ferrucci — raced. The last two World of Outlaws champions – Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz – were also in the field.

NASCAR national divisions sent Cup winners Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman, Alex Bowman and Larson, plus Xfinity winners Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe and Bell.