Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: (24 Hours of) 2023 Chili Bowl Nationals

The Headline(s): Logan Seavey became the first polesitter to win the Chili Bowl Nationals since Kevin Swindell accomplished the feat in the same No. 39 car 11 years ago.

How it Happened

2023 Chili Bowl Nationals
Where: Tulsa Expo Raceway – Tulsa, Okla. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $10,000

Two weeks removed from scoring a Driller trophy in the Tulsa Shootout, the Swindell Speedlabs No. 39 returned to midget victory lane courtesy of Logan Seavey, who prevailed on a green-white-checkered finish after a pitched battle with defending champion Tanner Thorson.

Thorson, who ran second to Seavey for pretty much the entire second half of the feature, was within a car length of the eventual race winner for the final 10 laps but raced very clean, making minimal contact throughout the exchange. Cannon McIntosh finished third and was the only driver other than Seavey to lead laps during the A-main.

The 55-lap feature came after a marathon race event that saw more than 15 hours elapse between the morning’s announced start for hot laps and the checkered flag flying. History was made on multiple fronts prior to the start of the A-main, with Brent Crews becoming the youngest A-main starter in the event’s history and Kaylee Bryson and Jade Avedesian marking the first time the A-main featured two female starters.

2023 CHILI BOWL NATIONALS RACE RESULTS

Fanning the Flames

It took the Chili Bowl Nationals six hours to get from their C-main to the end of their A-main, thanks to 90 minutes of pre-race, 30 minutes of track work after said pre-race, 20 minutes of track work between the C and B events, nearly 20 minutes between the two B-mains, and then over an hour of track work and intros before the A-main. The NFL literally played an entire playoff game before the Chili Bowl got its prelims done. They could rename this event The Neverending Story without it being false advertising.

But damn, don’t call that out on Twitter. The Chili Bowl is perfect. It’s the greatest thing ever. I wrote in my Wednesday column that the supporters of this event border on the occult. Fast forward to Saturday (wait, Sunday morning) and I’m going to edit that to be blunter. Chili Bowl supporters ARE a freaking cult. I’m firmly convinced at this point that promoter Emmett Hahn could shoot Kyle Larson in the infield and get applauded for doing so.

Let’s be clear about something. There is NO dirt track in the United States other than the Tulsa Expo Center that could get away with running four prelims and a feature in a span of six hours. That’s an absurd time investment and the only reason the Chili Bowl can get away with it is because they race in the dead of winter with no competition. And let’s also be clear, the A-main was a decent race. It was not worth watching 15 hours of preamble to get to. Especially when the late models at Vado put on a better show in a third the time.

I’m more riled up than I normally would be about a race that ran too long, but that’s because I truly believe that the Chili Bowl and the cult surrounding it are a negative for dirt racing as a whole. For two reasons.

First, Hahn. His campaign that has effectively militarized both open-wheel fans and drivers alike that it’s a badge of honor that the race only pays a paltry $10,000 to the winner despite being a true crown jewel race is completely self-defeating. Yes, it’s great competition. It’s also why national midget races payout the same as a fourth-tier regional late model tour. It doesn’t get more smug than Hahn telling the crowd during pre-race after joking about the purse that he found money to buy obnoxious red shoes that’d make Dorothy blush. Grassroots racing event my ass.

Which leads me to my second point. This event is HUGE. It draws attention from national drivers and media alike, which also draws lots of race fans whose sole exposure to dirt racing is this event. Fans that are new and unfamiliar to dirt racing being exposed to an event that spends more time preparing its racetrack than actually racing on it are not going to be trekking out to their local short track come spring. Hell, if this had been my first exposure to dirt racing, I’m not sure I’d have pursued this job.

I’m going to let this exchange with sprint car racer Zach Hampton speak for itself. If you love the Chili Bowl so much that you find it immune from criticism, stop reading this column and do yourself a favor. As for me, I’ll be heading to Vado, N.M. next year just to avoid sitting through this marathon all day. Hold me to that, I’ll see y’all in the desert.

One more note on this extended race day. It’s very cool and appropriate that the Chili Bowl staff get a shot to ride around the track in the two-seater racecar. Did those rides really have to take up track time during a 15-hour race program? The track’s not being bulldozed first thing Sunday morning.

Listening to Carson Hocevar clearly overstay his welcome in the Flo Racing booth was more grating than arguing with the Chili Bowl cultists on Twitter. In the middle of a morning soup program that saw Kris Carroll‘s literally break the all-time Chili Bowl record for transfers, all we heard from Hocevar was how tall he was, how rowdy the Top Row Rowdies are, and that he’s had no shortage of girlfriends. No wonder this program takes all freaking day to run. I was in the minority on that, but not alone.

I was harsh on the Chili Bowl officials being inconsistent throughout the week, but I’ll give them a tip of the cap for laying off the black flag when Carroll’s soup run was in the balance after he made contact with Dillon Welch late in the second J-main. That was clearly a racing incident.

It was pretty miraculous to see Ashton Torgerson and his father on the main stage during pre-race, and Rico Abreu’s gift to the family was really moving. That 10 minutes of pre-race may have been the high point of the entire 2023 Chili Bowl.

Having said that, it’s pretty damn laughable to me that after all the words and ink spilled by the Chili Bowl and its fans about safety, miracles, etc., that there’s already plans in place to bring back the flip count for 2024. Dirt track racing, where we’re concerned about driver safety in 15-minute intervals.

One of the shock pieces of news to emerge from the Chili Bowl was that the “Demon,” sprint car veteran Damion Gardner, retired effective as soon as he failed to advance out of his D-main Saturday. There were a number of dirt personalities lamenting the loss of a character such as Gardner, who definitely had no issue wearing the villain hat during his accomplished career. Given just how rough and tumble midget racing has been of late, I’m not sure there’s going to be a shortage of villain hats in open-wheel racing.

Success Stories

Alongside race winner Seavey, the driver most likely to live on in Chili Bowl lore after this week was Carroll, whose run from an N-main to an H marked the first seven-transfer performance by any driver in the 30-plus year history of the event. 

The driver Bryson referred to as “that guy” earlier in the week put on quite the display Saturday, with Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Tim McCreadie surging from 24th to 11th during the A-main. It’s arguable that McCreadie was driving the most underdog entry in the A-main field, yet he still managed to outrun that girl Bryson.

Hard charger honors in the A-main went to Pennsylvania’s Tim Buckwalter, who went from 23rd to ninth.

Lastly, hopefully once the hype over Seavey’s win dies down, Thorson will get the recognition he deserves for racing as cleanly as he did for the race win. Thorson had no less than a dozen opportunities to bump Seavey out of the way, and he didn’t do it once. Thorson may not have defended his championship, but he sure as hell conducted himself like one.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Brody Fuson fortunately walked away from the most spectacular crash Tulsa saw on Saturday.

USAC regular CJ Leary was the heavy favorite to make a deep soup run on Saturday morning, but despite a dominating J-main win the bad luck surrounding Alex Bowman Racing bit him again in his I-main competition, making Leary perhaps the biggest open-wheel regular name to bow out of this year’s Chili Bowl.

Greyson Springer’s car broke while he was leading the first F-main with only four laps to go to a transfer.

No driver had a rougher A-main Saturday than Monday’s Race of Champions winner, Spencer Bayston. Bayston found himself upside down less than a lap into the race after driving over the right-rear tire of one of the NOS-sponsored racecars, then was involved in another incident with Ryan Timms on lap 36. Bayston was one of only two drivers who failed to finish the A-main.

Gavan Boschele was in prime position to join Crews as another 14-year-old in the Chili Bowl field before enduring what was arguably the hardest hit any driver took this Saturday, going upside down before being drilled in the cockpit by a passing Blake Hahn. 

Fortunately, Boeschele was seen on-track post-race for celebrations with the Swindell Speedlab team; Boeschele scored the team’s Driller at the Shootout two weeks ago.

It’s hard to recall the last time the prohibitive favorite to win the Chili Bowl couldn’t make it out of a D-main, but that’s exactly what happened to Buddy Kofoid. Already buried deep in the soup after a prelim crash, Kofoid and his powerful Keith Kunz Motorsports ride wasn’t fast enough to break out of the pack, culminating with a backstretch flip that sent the driver up the ramp without comment to Flo Racing.

Numbers Game

8

Number of cautions in the Chili Bowl A-main Saturday/Sunday.

365

Total midgets that contested the 2023 Chili Bowl Nationals

$51,724.50

The winner’s share of the Chili Bowl 50/50, more than five times what race winner Seavey earned.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’re giving this one two old-formula Four Lokos just because caffeine was necessary to stay awake for this unnecessarily bloated marathon. Between a sham of an officiated race Tuesday, the near-tragedy with Torgerson Wednesday and a painfully and unnecessarily long program Saturday, I’m just glad the Chili Bowl is over.

Frontstretch editors, take note, I’m going to New Mexico next year for the Wild West Shootout just to have an excuse not to cover this event again. 

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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Barry Earhart

Who was the lady announcer for the A main? Thought she was really good.

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