Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2022 Chili Bowl Prelims

The Headline(s)

Rico Abreu and Christopher Bell lead the Chili Bowl field as the only former winners to score preliminary victories thus far in 2022, while Garrett Alberson steals a hometown win in dramatic fashion.

Our Feature Spotlights

2022 Chili Bowl Nationals
Where: Tulsa Expo Raceway – Tulsa, Okla. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $1,000 (nightly)

Wins by Rico Abreu Wednesday and Christopher Bell on Thursday have restored some stability to the 2022 Chili Bowl, as after the first two days every feature contested had not seen a repeat winner. Lincoln, Calif.’s Tanner Carrick opened the chaos up Monday night, the same night that saw USAC regular Justin Grant do just enough to hold off Kyle Larson in winning the VIROC invitational race.

Defending USAC national midget champion Buddy Kofoid scored the biggest upset of the Chili Bowl to date, capitalizing on Kyle Larson’s handling woes during Tuesday’s preliminary feature that allowed him to steal the win in the closing laps. 

Kofoid, Abreu and Bell are arguably the favorites heading into Saturday’s main event, though Larson locked into the A-main with his second-place finish on Tuesday.

2022 Wild West Shootout
Where: Vado Speedway Park – Vado, N.M. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $5,000 (super late models)

Wednesday’s super late model feature at Vado didn’t top Sunday’s race of the year feature, but the finish did. After Bobby Pierce erased a 1.5-second lead in the last eight laps of the A-main, passing race leader Mike Marlar for the lead exiting turn 2 on the white-flag lap, the two drivers collided in turn 3. While Marlar was able to drive off from the incident and towards the checkers, that tangle left just enough time for home-state driver Garrett Alberson to make up half a straightaway and steal the victory.

The win snapped Brandon Sheppard’s two-race win streak to start the WWS and cost him a shot at the $300,000 bonus to sweep the event; Sheppard can still score a $100,000 bonus if he can win features Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Success Stories

Bixby, Okla.’s Cannon McIntosh currently has served the biggest helping of alphabet soup in terms of passes this week in Tulsa, running from 12th to second in both a C- and B-main Tuesday, then improving from 19th to sixth in Monday’s A-main after exiting his heat race early with a stuck throttle.

Until Thursday, that is. Concord, Calif.’s Damion Gardner topped that in terms of ladder rungs by passing a total of 27 cars in going from the D- to the A-main. The feature was not kind to him, being involved in two incidents and finishing 19th at Tulsa.

Though Rico Abreu won a preliminary feature in 2021, he was never really a factor contending for the A-main win in 2021. Fast forward a year, and Abreu was the first driver to defend a prelim night win. Rico looks to be a contender on Tuesday.

To his credit, Bobby Pierce has cooled off since Wednesday night’s finish at Vado, but Mike Marlar‘s straight-shooting post-race interview echoes of Tim McCreadie‘s powerful comments after the Mason Zeigler/Tyler Erb tangle at East Bay last February. Good stuff from the veteran.

Bakersfield, Calif.’s Ethan Dotson is officially 2022’s winningest dirt driver thus far, scoring his fourth consecutive IMCA modified feature win at Cocopah Speedway Thursday night, again in dominating fashion.

Dallon Murty and his family were pretty much invincible in IMCA stock car competition in 2021, including a Bristol Dirt Nationals victory, and the new year appears to be a continuation of that. Making the drive from Iowa to Arizona to run Leslie Gill’s car, Murty got the best of Jonathan Most in his first career start at Cocopah, prevailing on a one-lap restart to take the feature win.

Of the much ballyhooed rule change that allowed drivers under the age of 16 to compete in the Chili Bowl, the results were a mixed bag. Mooresville, N.C.’s Gavan Boschele went from eighth to second in his heat race Monday despite a penalty and scored a top-10 in the A-main. Thursday night saw 13-year-old Brent Crews win his heat race and the first qualifier driving for Trackhouse before suffering a flat tire in the A-main.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

On the other hand of the young gun debate, Rising Sun, Md.’s Steven Snyder Jr. caused the biggest ruckus the Chili Bowl has seen in 2022, wrecking two drivers in his B-main event Tuesday night and becoming the first driver in the event this year to be disqualified for rough driving (more on that later). The incident triggered a fight atop the ramp.

Ask Springfield, Ill.’s Brayton Lynch and Burleson, Texas’s Jeb Sessums what they think of the new age rules. Both were victims of Snyder’s incomplete slide jobs on Tuesday.

Joining Snyder in the DQ club was none other than five-time Chili Bowl winner Sammy Swindell, who was relegated to a D-main after a first-lap wreck in his heat race, then ultimately DQ’d for rough driving after his C-main event ended.

Platte City, Mo.’s Casey Hicks was the first entry on the 2022 Chili Bowl flip counter, going over three laps into the first heat race Monday night.

The wreck of the week, however, came on Tuesday night courtesy of Red Bluff, Calif.’s Carson Sousa. A picture’s worth 1,000 words.

The flip count was needed at more than the Tulsa Expo Center on Thursday. Woodlan, Wash.’s Devon Reed went for a nasty ride in his IMCA modified heat at the Cocopah Speedway Thursday.

NASCAR Regulars

2017 Truck Series champion Christopher Bell finished third in the VIROC exhibition Monday night at Tulsa. He followed that up with a heat race win on Thursday and his seventh consecutive preliminary feature victory.

Part-time Xfinity Series competitor Tanner Berryhill grabbed the final transfer spot in the first qualifier Wednesday night, finishing 19th in that evening’s A-main.

Cup Series regular Alex Bowman held off defending All-Star Circuit of Champions champion Tyler Courtney to win the fourth qualifier on Monday night after dodging a wreck in his heat race. Bowman finished ninth in Monday’s A-main.

Former ARCA Series regular Travis Braden faded during his heat race Tuesday and finished ninth in the first C-main that evening, relegating him deep in Saturday’s alphabet soup for his Chili Bowl debut.

Cup Series regular Chase Briscoe won the first qualifier on Monday night and finished 11th in Monday’s A-main.

2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott won his heat race Monday night. Elliott was forced into a B-main after fading during qualifier and failed to transfer to Monday’s A-main. Elliott also finished ninth in Monday’s VIROC exhibition. According to Hendrick teammate Larson though, Elliott has made marked progress during the week at Tulsa.

Truck Series regular Carson Hocevar made it into a qualifier race, but failed to transfer into the A-main. Hocevar then suffered a mechanical issue and was unable to start in his B-main Wednesday.

Former Truck Series winner Todd Kluever went backwards early in his heat race Wednesday and failed to transfer out of the second D-main that night.

Defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson came within inches of winning the VIROC exhibition at Tulsa on Monday night. Larson then won his qualifier on Tuesday night and led the majority of Tuesday’s A-main until a bad brush with the cushion handed the win to Kofoid.

Defending ARCA West Series champion Jesse Love finished second in the second qualifier Monday night at Tulsa and 15th in Monday’s A-main.

Former Cup Series winner Ken Schrader improved from ninth to fifth in his IMCA modified heat Thursday at Cocopah, then won the third B-main to transfer to the night’s feature; Schrader finished outside the top 20 in the A-main, spending the closing laps trying to stay on the lead lap.

Xfinity Series regular JJ Yeley won the first heat race at Tulsa Thursday night and held a transfer spot in the first B-main for much of the race. A series of late-race yellows did Yeley no favors, and his inability to run the top side cost him a transfer to the A-main.

Fanning the Flames

The most talked about comments of Chili Bowl 2022 this far belong to event director Matt Ward, who laid out the “official” fighting rules for the event.

Where to start with what’s wrong with this. For one, in a climate of parts shortages that is affecting everything from grassroots stock cars to the big leagues, encouraging drivers to take out their frustrations on track is ludicrous, especially for an event that continues to kid race fans that it is a “grassroots” event. Calling the Chili Bowl grassroots is liking calling SEC football amateur.

The larger issue I have with this stance ties into another misgiving that I have with this year’s Chili Bowl, allowing young teens to race in such a big-league event. For one, creating environments on the track where it’s allowable and encouraged to settle differences on-track is a bad place to put impressionable racers. 

But it also leads to impossible situations like Tuesday night, where a crew man for one of the cars that teen Steven Snyder Jr. junked was ejected from the event for scuffling with Snyder’s crew in the pits. On the one hand, the crew man defied the edict of race officials and fought in the pits, and his ejection is well within the rules. But when your car has already been trashed and the driver responsible is a teenager that by LAW you can’t teach a lesson, what alternative does an angry crew have to get their point across? 

The Chili Bowl is the big leagues now. Teenagers who aren’t even legal adults have no business on big-league racetracks.

Super DIRT Week is not a NASCAR-sanctioned event, but it’s certainly behaving like one, opting to push back the start of the annual 200-lap finale feature to 5 p.m. on a Sunday. Yes, that ensures a finish under the lights, but that also means the end of a weeklong event is going to come around 9 p.m. the night before most fans and crews have to be back at their day jobs.  I can’t imagine primetime matters that much on DirtVision.

As if the 2022 Ice Bowl wasn’t frustrating enough live, the Iron-Man Series officiating the super late model portion of the event made the asinine decision to suspend race winner Michael Page from all events officiated by the series for a calendar year after one of his crew members allegedly accosted race officials in the infield during the event (I know Facebook isn’t a real place, but it’s worth noting that this account is being disputed on the platform).

Translation: unless Talladega Short Track gets someone else to officiate in 2023, Page’s streak of six straight Ice Bowl wins will end off the track. That’s a disservice to race fans and competitors alike. Even assuming the worst is true and Page’s crew was involved in misconduct, suspending his No. 18 from dozens of races through calendar 2022 is plenty punitive. 

Even more problematic with this decision was the rationale provided by Iron-Man’s promoter, Chris Tilley, who also said such a suspension was necessary because “The rules were followed to the letter last weekend, but we felt like Mr. Page used the rule to his advantage and that will not be tolerated,” referring to a rule that allows drivers to maintain their starting positions if a first-lap crash involves multiple cars.

So the driver followed the rules as written, but because fans didn’t like the results of a black and white rule, he’s now suspended and a historical streak is snapped for no good reason? Tilley’d make a great politician, governing by social media outrage. As if the bloated Ice Bowl program didn’t have enough wrong with it.

Closing with more bad news for the nation’s track chasers early this year, it was announced that Outlaw Motor Speedway in Oklahoma will not run in 2022.

Numbers Game

2 – repeat Chili Bowl feature winners thus far in 2022 (Rico Abreu & Christopher Bell).

36 – Chili Bowl flip count through Thursday’s prelim feature.

100 – total car count for Wednesday’s Wild West Shootout program at Vado.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give the midweek five Barleywine Ales from Tulsa’s Marshall Brewing Company. The Chili Bowl actually remains without a clear frontrunner, and the dueling racing programs out west at Cocopah and Vado continue to deliver. Long nights for those of us that have to work the next morning, but the shows have been worth it.

Up Next: Dirt racing winter kicks into overdrive with the Chili Bowl A-main and the big-money conclusion of the Wild West Shootout. Coverage can be found on Flo Racing.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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I don’t think Rico or the guy that beat Larson, the favorites for the Saturday night main Bell yes, Larson yes. Definitely too many youngsters running the chili bowl without the experience.

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