Race Weekend Central

This Day in Dirt: Ashton Torgerson Injured as 2023 Chili Bowl Hits Rock Bottom in Tulsa

Winning Moment: Jonathan Davenport scored his third consecutive win in the Wild West Shootout, halfway to a potential $300,000 bonus in Vado. N.M. Rico Abreu used a last-lap pass to score his sixth consecutive Wednesday night (Jan. 11) prelim win at the Chili Bowl Nationals.

Dramatic Moment: Ashton Torgerson left the Tulsa Expo Center in an ambulance after a frightening crash during Wednesday’s Chili Bowl prelim feature after his car flipped and his safety belts released, sending the driver out the roof and onto the racing surface. Torgerson was awake and communicating to rescue personnel when he left the track in an ambulance.

See also
This Day in Dirt: Hometown Hank Davis Scores Chili Bowl Upset in Shambolic 2nd Prelim

As of this writing, Torgerson was described as awake and alert at the hospital with feeling in his hands and feet.

In a Nutshell: The Chili Bowl Nationals proved even after a wreck-filled sham Tuesday that they’ve yet to find rock bottom.


What They’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning

Sincere thoughts and prayers go out to Torgerson, his family and his race team after the scariest incident I’ve viewed on a racetrack since Ryan Newman’s near-death experience in the 2020 Daytona 500. And if you’re one of those that chooses to be glib anytime someone uses the words “thoughts and prayers” these days, kindly find a roof and jump off.

There was a real dichotomy to what unfolded in Tulsa Wednesday night. We’ll start with the positive. Flo Racing and its crew did a phenomenal job handling the situation. Its camera crews cut away the second they realized how severe the wreck was and at no point trained cameras on the scene, the ambulance or replays of the incident. The crew did not speculate on anything relating to Torgerson’s condition. And while I don’t agree with all the sentiments the booth expressed, it was composed and respectful throughout. It’s not an exaggeration to call its handling of a difficult night textbook and a case study to be emulated.

The same cannot be said for the Chili Bowl race officials. I don’t care that the drivers chose to keep racing. I don’t care that Abreu used victory lane as a platform to back Emmett Hahn and his steadfast refusal to increase his 1990s-level purse because Tulsa is special, the fans are special, the building is special. There was NO reason to restart this race tonight.

Yes, racecar drivers are a different breed and they know full well the risk of injury is there every time they strap in. But what happened to Torgerson was not just a bad wreck that hurt him. It was very clearly a case where safety gear failed. Be it worn improperly, released inadvertently or the product of something breaking, the restraints in Torgerson’s car failed to do what they were supposed to do.

Not taking the night off to check out the wrecked car to figure out what went wrong with said restraints before sending midgets back onto the track is the epitome of irresponsibility. Especially considering that the Chili Bowl is scheduled to race tomorrow anyhow. How freaking hard would it have been to squeeze 20 laps in after hot laps tomorrow before proceeding with the regular program?

Top all that off with the ever tone-deaf Scotty Cook encouraging the crowd to make noise and celebrate Abreu’s win as if it was a regular Wednesday night at the Expo Center, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt this gross watching a race. The Chili Bowl and its followers border on the occult with their devotion to an event and a promoter that’s frankly gotten too big for its own good, and that showed its ugly head Wednesday night. This is my third year on the dirt beat for Frontstretch and the first time I’ve been unhappy doing it. 

If I was still using Matt McLaughlin’s six-can rating system, this one would rate as a Dixie cup of mule spit.

If there’s one positive to this incident, it’s that for the remainder of Wednesday’s preliminary feature, Flo Racing made no update or reference to the flip count that’s been turned into a fully sponsored at-track scoreboard that earlier this week was seeking celebrity operators. 

I had already planned to write about rethinking the counter tonight even before Torgerson’s accident, given that Colton Hardy’s nasty crash yesterday it turns out left him with a concussion and that Cade Cowles had to be assisted out of his car after a heat race crash Wednesday. Now, I’m going to emphatically say this. Take the damn scoreboard down and find something else for World Wide Technology Raceway to sponsor. Making a drinking game out of non-wing open-wheel cars crashing was almost literally morbid this week.

See also
Driller to Daytona? Tulsa Shootout Winner Gavan Boschele Hopes So

I’m not in a mood to objectively comment on dirt racing right now, but also don’t want to leave the Wild West Shootout and the IMCA Winter Nationals in a lurch after both events put on decent races Wednesday.

If I’m dirt late model racing, I’m scared of what Jonathan Davenport is doing right now. Racing against a field including Kyle Larson, Bobby Pierce and Brandon Sheppard, all of whom are now driving the same vaunted Longhorn Chassis that Davenport dominated with a year ago, Superman is undefeated three races into 2023. Remember last year he won $2 million despite not winning a race until April. Easily the toughest out in the sport right now.

As for the IMCA Winter Nationals out at the Cocopah Speedway in Arizona, the 30-lap hobby stock race had two things going for it worth a note. One, it was a damn good race. Two, the track opting to use a random draw to just get cars on track and let them race saved a ton of time and made for a great on-track product. Mid-week race organizers around the country should take note.

Sorry, y’all, not doing any heroes or villains tonight. Pray for Ashton Torgerson.

Numbers Game


Dirt tracks that ran oval track racing programs Wednesday night.


Midgets entered in the Chili Bowl at Tulsa Wednesday, the highest nightly car count to date and the first to require D-mains.


Nation’s largest car count on Wednesday night, the Wild West Shootout in Vado.

Up Next: Frontstretch will be covering the fourth qualifying night of the Chili Bowl Nationals on Thursday (Jan. 12) and IMCA Winter Nationals at Cocopah. Streaming coverage can be found on Flo Racing and IMCA TV, respectively.

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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