TULSA, Okla. — Entering Monday’s Cummins Qualifying Night program during the 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, most fans were unfamiliar with Jacob Denney.
The Galloway, Ohio, young gun — who wheeled the No. 35 for Petry Motorsports — made sure that wasn’t the case by night’s end.
Denney stunned the limited crowd on hand and those watching online with an impressive heat race performance — holding off reigning USAC national midget champion Chris Windom to win that contest — then raced from 13th to sixth in the 30-lap main after locking in on points in his A Qualifier.
Perhaps the biggest nugget about Denney’s Monday heroics was the fact that he turned 16 years old Sunday, making him the second-youngest competitor in this year’s Chili Bowl field.
“I’m blown away,” Denney admitted. “For my first Chili Bowl that has been pretty good. Scott and all the guys here gave me a great car and that makes it a lot easier on my part. The heat race we won was pretty cool. I knew the car was fast, just as fast as Windom. I just had to get a good start and set a good pace and from there it was about not making a lot of mistakes. Luckily, we kept everything clean.”
Last season, Denney made his name by finishing as the runner-up in the USAC Midwest Regional Midget Series championship fight, coming eight points shy of Chett Gehrke in the combined standings and ranking as the highest D2 midget driver in the series that featured both national and D2-style midgets.
However, the four-time USAC .25 Midget national champion and USAC Midwest Thunder D2 Midget Series titlist admitted his experiences in Ohio and Indiana were nothing compared to the competition he’s facing this week at the Chili Bowl.
“This deal is on a whole different level,” Denney noted. “I mean, when you look at it, pretty much any race here you’ve got somebody in it that could win the A Main on Saturday. Even the A Qualifiers are so stacked. For me, though, I’m racing against guys that I grew up watching my whole life. It was kind of sweet and a little bit surreal to finally be racing (against) them.”
Team owner Scott Petry, who hopes to field Denney in one of his cars at least part time this year, said he saw the potential of the teenager during a doubleheader POWRi West Midget League weekend at Oklahoma’s Creek County Speedway in November.
Denney earned one top-10 finish in Petry’s No. 35 — the same car he’s driving this week at the Chili Bowl — and Petry believes “he should have had another” at Creek County.
“He’s a great young shoe. He’s very talented,” Petry said. “He’s very quiet, but he’s very methodical in everything he does. He gives great feedback. That’s hard to find in a kid, but when he comes in, he tells you exactly what the car did all night long. His feedback has been phenomenal and that really makes our job a whole lot easier.
“We’re hoping to run him more, as long as we can make something work out. I’ve been pretty vocal in the past that my program is about trying to get sponsorship to help some young kids who don’t have the opportunity to get in a really good car. He’s a prime example of one of those kids.
“We would love for somebody to step up a little bit, help out, and get this kid going … because he needs to be in a car. We really believe in him.”
A strong Saturday showing would go a long way toward that goal and Denney knows it.
“We’re here to make some noise, so now that we’ve got ourselves in a decent spot, hopefully, we can go out and make the A Main on Saturday,” he said.
Denney will compete in one of two B Mains on Saturday during the alphabet soup program, racing live on MAVTV as he hopes to complete the task of making his name during the Super Bowl of Midget Racing.
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