TULSA, Okla. – Two years ago, Cannon McIntosh was a virtual unknown when he walked into the River Spirit Expo Center to compete at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals for the first time.
Last January, McIntosh linked up with Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports and won his preliminary night feature before backing it up with an impressive podium finish in the Saturday finale.
Now, heading into the 35th edition of the Super Bowl of Midget Racing, McIntosh is regarded as one of the potential favorites to take home the Golden Driller trophy – alongside the likes of defending event winner Kyle Larson and three-time Chili Bowl champion Christopher Bell.
It’s been an astronomical rise for the 18-year-old from nearby Bixby, Okla., and it’s a run that he admitted even he was surprised by when he reflected on the last two years.
“This is definitely not where I expected to be in two years’ time, but it’s pretty cool to be that guy now that can compete with those guys (Larson and Bell) at the Chili Bowl,” McIntosh said. “I’d say it’s neat to me that I’ve started to become a name that some people fear when they see it. I can’t say that I ever expected that to happen. Just to have been able to accomplish what we did last year is pretty awesome, and I want to have the same goals in mind for this year and not necessarily expect too much.
“That kind of thinking just keeps more of the pressure off my shoulders, I feel like.”
McIntosh’s Chili Bowl success from last year propelled him to an impressive outdoor season, during which he won twice in USAC competition and added three more victories with POWRi as well.
He finished inside the top five in both tours’ championship standings, and because much of his success was in the late summer and fall, McIntosh tipped that he isn’t changing much when it comes to the Chili Bowl.
“We’ve brought back the same car as last year; obviously the Race of Champions car will be a different car, but we feel both pieces are strong,” he said. “I’ll run the car I ran outdoors this year on Tuesday (for the Race of Champions). So most of that is the same as it has been and that’s how we planned it. The one thing that will be a little different this year is that Keith is letting Jarrett (Martin) and Kaz (Townsend) handle the wrenches mostly, which he’s never done at the Chili Bowl, I don’t think. So that will be new in that regard, but Kaz and I worked together the second half of the year and we were fast.
“It’ll be different, for sure, but cool because I’m used to working with Kaz. I don’t think we’ll be far off, if at all,” he added. “Obviously Kaz knows what he’s doing. It’s the same mindset going into this one as what we brought last year, and hopefully it rewards us in a similar way.”
One notable change for McIntosh from last year to this year is the fact that he’ll be eligible to compete in the Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions for the first time. The Tuesday all-star race is made up of a mixture of top stars, with McIntosh’s podium finish from last year giving him a spot in the field.
It’s something that McIntosh doesn’t take for granted and he believes those 25 laps will only serve to make him better following his Monday preliminary night – or help him improve if Monday is a struggle.
“I think it’s huge, being able to have that golden ticket, because you’re getting 25 extra laps that a lot of guys don’t get in a week where you don’t make that many laps on the track to begin with,” McIntosh noted. “You show up, run your practice and your prelim night, and that’s it coming into the main night. So I think it’s pretty important to be able to have that Race of Champions spot.
“The coolest part is we’re locked into it for the next five years, so it’s a big tool to have going forward.”
Though McIntosh has gone from unknown to favorite virtually overnight, he’s done so while also keeping a cool composure and staying humble despite the added attention.
That, he said, is just part of who he is and something he doesn’t want to give up at any point.
“You don’t want to lose your head. I feel like I’m still the same old kid from Bixby, no matter the amount of success that comes my way,” McIntosh explained. “I’m just trying to keep that, and don’t want to ever lose that. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that, and some people don’t realize how big of a deal that is, because that’s your fans and all the people that supported me along the way. It really is a big deal.
“I just want to be the guy that everyone looks at and respects, just because there’s lots of guys that have a lot of talent and speed, but people may not like them because of the attitude they portray. I want to be a cut above and be the guy that people appreciate how I handle things. I think that’s important.”
McIntosh will begin his quest for a second-straight Chili Bowl preliminary night victory on Monday during Cummins Qualifying Night, the first of six days of competition inside the River Spirit Expo Center.
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