Race Weekend Central

This Day in Dirt: Defending Chili Bowl Champ Tanner Thorson Dominates Thursday

Winning Moment: After enduring a surprisingly eventful heat race, defending Chili Bowl Nationals champion Tanner Thorson made the Thursday prelim feature (Jan. 12) look easy.

Dramatic Moment: USAC regular CJ Leary became the biggest name of the week to be buried in Saturday’s alphabet soup, enduring yet another major incident on the night when Taylor Ferns obliterated him in the final B-main.

In a Nutshell: There was little remarkable about this Thursday night, and that’s mercifully what the 2023 Chili Bowl needed.


What They’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning

I really had a problem with Flo Racing’s opening monologue addressing the traumatic episode involving Ashton Torgereson last night. Asking fans not to speculate is a completely valid request. Saying there’s a time and a place to figure out what went wrong and that’s after cars are done in Tulsa this week makes absolutely no sense. I’m not arguing to park midgets until this is resolved, but how in the world can there not be some of understanding what went wrong nearly 24 hours later? 

The “flip count” was nowhere to be found during Thursday’s telecast, and hopefully it’s six feet under the Tulsa Expo surface for good. Having said that, this is a fantastic replacement idea.

I couldn’t help but laugh when Flo Racing’s interview with celebrity attendee Barry Weiss of Storage Wars fame resulted in Weiss exclaiming surprise when he found out that Kyle Larson was not competing this year. However, while Weiss was visibly disappointed at that discovery, he was just one man in a sea of many, as the Thursday night crowd at Tulsa was extremely large.

I’ve given up trying to understand what is and isn’t rough driving at the Tulsa Expo Raceway. At this point I hope there’s no more drivers sent to the rear for the rest of the week. 

I’ve made numerous references to how old-school the stock car racing at Cocopah Speedway has been during the IMCA Winter Nationals, but it went to a whole new level with NASCAR veterans Kenny Wallace and Bobby Labonte scoring top-10 finishes in the stock car division, Labonte sporting an old-school No. 18 paint scheme doing it.

Hero of the Day

Thorson had to engage in some self-induced heroics after spinning himself out during his heat race, though he did recover to win his qualifier in dramatic fashion and start on the front row of Thursday’s prelim feature. Having said that, Thorson controlled every second of Thursday’s feature, easily the most dominating performance that any driver in the field has shown through four nights of racing at Tulsa.

Coupled with the fact that Thorson is defending his title with a self-built and self-owned team, Thursday was indeed an accomplishment.

Victim/Villain of the Day

Leary is not going to be buried as deep in the soup as Jason McDougal’s famous I-D run back in 2021, but he’s definitely the biggest gun in the field facing a long ladder climb on Saturday after having seemingly every wayward driver in the field gunning for him. Leary wasn’t able to complete a single lap in his heat race before suffering enough damage to force the Alex Bowman Racing team to put him in Jake Swanson’s car.

Leary immediately put his backup car to good use, going on a powerful 14th to first run to win his C-main event. Starting 13th in his B-main, Leary got off to a great start and made it all the way up to sixth before Ferns ran out of talent in a major way exiting turn 4.

Not only did the incident leave Leary buried in the soup, his car was visibly totaled after the flip,  leaving his ABR team with two cars to rebuild before Saturday. 

Numbers Game


Dirt tracks that ran oval track racing programs Thursday night.


Midgets entered in the Chili Bowl Nationals Thursday night in Tulsa.


Nation’s largest car count on Thursday night, the IMCA Winter Nationals in Arizona.

Up Next: Frontstretch will be covering the fifth qualifying night of the Chili Bowl Nationals on Friday (Jan. 13), the fourth night of the Wild West Shootout in Vado, N.M. and the latest night of the 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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