The 25th annual Chili Bowl Nationals will be held Jan. 11-15 at the QuickTrip Center’s Tulsa Expo Raceway.
In celebration of the Silver Anniversary of this prestigious indoor midget race, www.nationalspeedsportnews.com will be publishing the race reports that appeared in the pages of National Speed Sport News for the first 24 runnings of the event.
Beginning with the inaugural event in 1987, race recaps will be posted on a daily basis from Dec. 18 through Jan. 10.
USAC Champ Gardner Pilots Leffler’s Midget To Chili Bowl Victory
By BRYAN GAPINSKI
TULSA, Okla. — Less than 24 hours after winning his first midget feature, Damion “The Demon” Gardner captured Saturday night’s 22nd annual Dodge Chili Bowl Midget Nationals at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
The 2005 USAC-CRA Sprint Car Series champion led the final 39 laps, driving Jason Leffler’s No. 71g Stealth/Ford-Esslinger before a standing-room-only crowd of 16,329 and an HBO Pay-Per-View audience.
Polesitter Josh Ford jumped into the lead, setting a torrid pace, and began lapping the tail of the star-studded field by lap nine of the quarter-mile indoor dirt track. One lap later, Gardner rode the cushion exiting turn two, passing Ford for the lead. Thursday night feature winner Brad Kuhn passed Ford for second one lap later, but made contact with a lapped car on the 13th lap, spinning to a stop.
Gardner and Ford quickly pulled away from the field, but their half straightaway lead was erased when Kasey Kahne suffered engine failure on lap 17.
Four additional cautions between laps 20-28 for stopped cars kept the field tightly bunched. Ford, winner of the Wednesday-night feature, saw his victory hopes end when he jumped the cushion on lap 24. Ford restarted and finished 14th.
During each restart, Dave Darland and Shane Cottle tried to remain close to Gardner, but excellent restarts gave Gardner a comfortable lead each time. Running the cushion, Gardner did a masterful driving job. The tricky track saw Gardner jump the cushion a few times, giving competitors their only hope of catching him.
“I tried to run good, smooth laps instead of fast laps,” said Gardner afterward.
A three-car accident with eight laps remaining saw pre-race favorite Jerry Coons, Jr. flip, and set up one last chance for Darland and Cottle to make a run at Gardner. Gardner executed one last perfect restart and was never challenged over the final eight laps.
Darland, driving the Nine Racing Toyota, finished second, followed by Cottle, Bryan Clauson and Jon Stanbrough.
Second B feature winner Kevin Swindell, Brady Bacon, who spun on the opening lap, defending race winner Tony Stewart, 2005 winner Tracy Hines and Nathan High completed the top 10. Leffler finished 17th in the feature.
“Jason is really excited. Three weeks ago we weren’t even going to do this and hopefully we can take this momentum and continue on through the year,” said Gardner, who drives for Leffler’s team in the USAC National Sprint Car Series. Gardner’s previous best Chili Bowl finish was 10th in 2003.
A record 274 drivers competed in the five-day event. Saturday’s racing activities saw 20 features run, starting with two K features.
Levi Jones and Terry McCarl both advanced the farthest to make the championship feature, coming from the second C feature. Fifty-nine drivers flipped during the week. There were no reported injuries.
Feature (50 laps):
- Damion Gardner;
- Dave Darland;
- Shane Cottle;
- Bryan Clauson;
- Jon Stanbrough;
- Kevin Swindell;
- Brady Bacon;
- Tony Stewart;
- Tracy Hines;
- Nathan High;
- Levi Jones;
- Jesse Hockett;
- Cole Whitt;
- Josh Ford;
- Davey Ray;
- Aaron Fiscus;
- Jason Leffler;
- Jerry Coons, Jr.;
- Terry McCarl;
- Billy Wease;
- Bobby Michnowicz;
- Kasey Kahne;
- Brad Kuhn;
- Gary “Bubba” Altig.
Tuesday Night Preliminary: Josh Most
Wednesday Night Preliminary: Josh Ford
Thursday Night Preliminary: Brad Kuhn
Friday Night Preliminary: Damion Gardner