TULSA, Okla. — The Chili Bowl Nationals has long been known as a gathering place of the best of the best from all forms of racing, from the upper echelons of the sport to the grassroots level.
And the 26th edition of the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals set for next Tuesday through Saturday at the QuikTrip Center’s Tulsa Expo Raceway is no exception with NASCAR champions Tony Stewart and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., headlining an impressive list of 2011 series champions.
While Stewart and Stenhouse took titles under National television spotlights, champions from all variety of sprint car and midget series as well as one the nation’s premier Late Model series will be on hand as well.
Coming off his third NASCAR Sprint Cup title, Stewart returns to the Chili Bowl for the first time since 2008 in search of his third Chili Bowl triumph.
Stenhouse, who made the cut for his second Chili Bowl championship finale last January, went on to capture his first championship at the next level by taking the top spot with the NASCAR Nationwide series.
While the Chili Bowl is teeming with open wheel aces from the sprint car and midget ranks that Stewart and Stenhouse climbed, Rick Eckert represents the popular late model racers. Eckert makes his fifth Chili Bowl appearance and first since 2010 after capturing the World of Outlaws Late Model championship in 2011.
Among the open wheelers, at least three drivers captured multiple championships in 2011 including Levi Jones, Brad Loyet and Brady Short.
Jones captured both the USAC Sprint Car and USAC Silver Crown championships in 2011 and takes aim at his first Chili Bowl finale since 2009.
Loyet added his third POWRi Midget championship in 2011 while also capturing the ASCS Warrior Region title in his rookie year of Sprint Car competition. Spearheading the potent six-car Loyet Motorsports stable, Loyet guns for his fourth consecutive Chili Bowl championship main event.
Short, a part of the A.J. Felker stable, tries for his first Chili Bowl finale after earning the MSCS (Non-Wing Sprint Car) and Bloomington Speedway titles in 2011.
One champion actually landed a ride for the Chili Bowl by earning his title, as the Midwest Open Wheel Association fields an entry for Jerrod Hull as part of his championship package with the Illinois-based winged Sprint Car series.
With countless champions from previous years throughout the QuikTrip Center, champions from 2011 include the following:
Bryan Clauson – USAC Midgets
Shane Cottle – Kokomo Speedway (Non-Wing Sprint Cars)
Dave Darland – King of Indiana Sprint Series (Non-Wing Sprint Cars)
Rick Eckert – World of Outlaw Late Models
Taylor Lynn Ferns – USAC Mopar D1 Midgets
Blake Hahn – ASCS2 Outlaw Micro Sprints
Jerrod Hull – Midwest Open Wheel Association (MOWA)
C.J. Johnson – NCRA (Winged Sprint Cars)
Levi Jones – USAC Sprint Cars and USAC Silver Crown
Brad Kuhn – BMARA Midgets
Cory Kruseman – USAC Western States Midgets
Brad Loyet – ASCS Warrior Region (winged Sprint Cars) and POWRi Midgets
Brady Short – MSCS and Bloomington Speedway (Non-Wing Sprint Cars)
Mike Spencer – USAC-CRA (Non-Wing Sprint Cars)
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – NASCAR Nationwide
Tony Stewart – NASCAR Sprint Cup
Richard VanderWeerd – USAC West Coast 360 Sprint Cars (Non-Wing)
Matt Westfall – Waynesfield Raceway Park (Non-Wing Sprint Cars)
Currently, there are 261 entries for next week’s Chili Bowl Nationals representing 31 states as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Finland.
Following Monday’s practice session, four nights of qualifying action on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will set Saturday’s feature grids, with the top three finishers from each night locking into Saturday’s 50-lap championship “A” Main.
Tuesday’s card will also include the Fourth Annual Vacuworx International Race of Champions (VIROC IV).