TULSA, Okla. – While Kyle Larson was claiming the accolades at the front of Tuesday night’s Chili Bowl Nationals preliminary feature, a pair of standout rookies were garnering plenty of attention in their own right.

Jesse Colwell and Andrew Layser, both first-time participants at this year’s Chili Bowl, impressed many onlookers during Warren CAT Qualifying Night by not only making the 25-lap A-main, but going toe-to-toe with some of the best drivers midget racing has to offer and not cracking under pressure.

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Driving for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports, Colwell was one of the highest points earners through preliminary action on Tuesday and finished eighth, while Layser was the last of the 16 lock-ins to the main event on passing points and charged from 16th to finish 11th for Clauson-Marshall Racing.

Colwell’s performance was particularly noteworthy, considering he won his Chili Bowl ride by topping the KKM Giveback Classic presented by Toyota Racing Development for outlaw karts at Millbridge (N.C.) Speedway in October and was making just the third midget start of his career.

Those factors left the 19-year-old California native amazed at the night he was able to put together.

“This is huge. I came here with a goal of just making the preliminary night feature at all; I didn’t expect that we’d run well enough to put this car into a B for Saturday night,” said Colwell. “I figured we’d be in the C or the D … or even worse. Ending up where we did is a statement, I think, and I’m pretty pumped.

“We had a good car all night. We went eighth to third in our heat and then moved from fifth to third in the qualifier, so we proved that we could pass cars the whole way,” he added. “Maintaining in the feature against the competition we were racing against was big too. All I’ve wanted was an opportunity to show what I can do, and I couldn’t be more grateful to Keith and everyone from Toyota for all this.”

Layser landed his ride with Clauson-Marshall just after the end of last year, racing during the Junior Knepper 55 at the Southern Illinois Center as a warm-up for the Chili Bowl, where he finished 11th in Tuesday’s feature after starting 16th.

The 17-year-old Pennsylvanian cut his teeth driving as a teammate to Alex Bright over the last two years and is relishing the opportunity to showcase his abilities with a top-tier organization. He’ll be in a C-main on Saturday.

Layser Chili Bowl
Andrew Layser in action during his Chili Bowl preliminary night on Tuesday. (Devin Mayo photo)

“I’m really happy with this night,” Layser said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the A-main. I just wanted to finish all the laps and move forward as much as I could, and we did just that. We’ll be close to a transfer spot starting off in the C for Saturday, so that’s already a benefit.

“To have this chance with Clauson-Marshall … they’ve been so great to work with so far and Tim and Richard have really taken me under their wings through all this,” he continued. “You only get the chance to race your first Chili Bowl once, so I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can and not stress it too much.”

Saturday now becomes a game of alphabet soup for both Colwell and Layser. Colwell locked up a spot in one of the twin B-mains that will set the field for the 55-lap finale, while Layser will have to race his way out of a C-main if he hopes to have a shot at starting his first Chili Bowl main event. They’ll also be racing each other for Chili Bowl rookie-of-the-year honors.

Neither one of the two is focused on what they have to do at this point, however.

Both drivers plan to take the next three days and soak in the magnitude of what they’ve already accomplished against a field of more than 350 entries.

“Obviously I’d like to make it to the A on Saturday, but the Cs to the A … those are A-mains at any other race or track in the country,” Layser noted. “We have a car that’s capable, and it’s going to be pretty cool to be on MAVTV now after watching this race on there just a few years ago.”

“It’s way more than people expected, so now I have to go and make the most of it, right?” Colwell added. “That’s going to be the goal on Saturday, but I’m going to sit back and take in the rest of this week first. We’ll relax a little, have some fun and get ready for the task at hand in a couple of days.”

SPEED SPORT’s Chili Bowl coverage is presented by MyRacePass, the official timing and scoring app of the 2019 Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. Fans can download the MyRacePass app on their phones to follow all the action during the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. For more information on MyRacePass, visit www.myracepass.com. All of SPEED SPORT’s Live From The Chili Bowl presented by MyRacePass coverage can be found by clicking here.

Watch The Chili Bowl Live: The Chili Bowl will be shown live online on www.racinboys.com. The online PPV experience will run from Monday through Saturday’s qualifiers. At the time of opening ceremonies (6 p.m. local time) on Saturday, Racinboys PPV coverage will cease as the final features will be shown live on MAVTV (more information here).