Column By: DYLAN TERRY & DERICK KRINER / RPW – TULSA, OK – It’s officially that time of the year again folks.
Time to hear the roar of engines indoors at one of the largest indoor facilities in the entire country.
The Chili Bowl Nationals kick off on Monday evening for the event’s 38th running inside the Tulsa Expo Center.
With over 370+ entries so far, the excitement and anticipation for the event has to be at an all-time high.
With so many entries, it also may be somewhat difficult to the casual fan to know names to keep an eye out for on each preliminary night throughout the week. Fear not, we have you covered.
Without further ado, here are our Top 3 candidates to take home each prelim night victory.
Dylan Terry’s Picks
Golobic is one of the most experienced drivers at the Chili Bowl, having ran at the Tulsa
Expo Center every single year the last 16 years. It’s baffling to me that a driver that’s led laps in the Expo Center and has so much success over the years has yet to capture a preliminary night victory in all of those attempts. Shane did however drive to a 2nd place finish on his prelim night last year. You can be sure to bet that Golobic will be trying everything in his power to change this mind-blowing statistic on Monday night.
This will be Cannon’s sixth attempt at the Chili Bowl Nationals, and boy has he been
lightning quick. Of his 5 previous starts, he has taken the checkered flag on his prelim night on 3 different occasions. The two other times? A fifth and a sixth-place finish. You know that McIntosh will be in the
hunt once again, even though he’s going to be running for a new team in this year’s edition, Keith Kunz Motorsports.
It’s kind of crazy how much “Big Daddy” has in common with his NOS Energy teammate
Golobic. Like Shane, Windom has a ton of experience at the Chili Bowl, having ran every edition of the
Chili Bowl since 2006. Like Shane, Chris has yet to win on his preliminary night. Like Shane, Windom also finished in the Top 3 last year on Monday night, finishing just behind Golobic in the 3rd position. Could this be the year that Windom finally gets over the hump and secures a preliminary night victory?
Michael “Buddy” Kofoid
Out of his four Chili Bowl appearances, Buddy has been fairly dominate until last January when a slight hiccup during his prelim night ended up affecting his whole week. Before that 20th place prelim finish last year, Kofoid had finished 3rd, 2nd, and 1st in his first three preliminary nights at the SageNet Center. The former USAC National Midget Series champion returns to the Keith Kunz stable, a team in which he has had all of that previous success with. Barring another unfortunate circumstance like last year, “Buddy The Dirt Driver” should be near the front on Tuesday evening.
Last January, McDermand singlehandedly put himself on the map in the world of midgets. He was the first to find the rubber during his preliminary feature, charging from the 15th starting position to finish on the podium in 3rd. Since then, Chase ran the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series Tour this past summer where he tallied 6 victories, the most out of any driver. McDermand will be behind the wheel of a new car for this year’s edition though. He teams up with Trifecta Motorsports team to pilot the 7U machine for this year’s edition. Even though Chase parted ways with the Mount Stout Motorsports camp, Trifecta has had very good performances at the Chili Bowl in the past, most notably with Kyle Jones. This new pairing could prove to be a match made in heaven.
Another one of the more experienced veterans of the Chili Bowl, Daum has participated in the event every year since 2006. He is a former preliminary winner back in 2010, and 8 Top 5 finishes on prelim nights in the past. If you watch midget racing at all, you know that Daum loves to rip the bottom of the track. Based on last week’s track reworks during the Tulsa Shootout, the bottom line proved to be the dominate line during racing action. If this trend continues this week, Daum will definitely be a force to be reckoned with.
The man known as “Sunshine” makes his return to the Chili Bowl for the first time in two years. The pilot of the NOS Energy Drink Abacus racing machine is coming off of a little bit of a disappointing week at the Tulsa Shootout. Because of this, look for Tyler to be coming out with all cylinders firing. In his last six preliminary starts, the former USAC National Midget Series champion has posted finishes of 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 6th, 3rd, and 1st. It seems like it’s going to be a lock to see his #57 car near the front of the pack on Wednesday evening.
Avedisian has been making history in the world of midget racing the past two seasons. Coming off of her first career Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series title, Jade brings a boatload of momentum into Tulsa. The 17 year old gasser made her first career appearance in the Expo Center last winter, and turned many heads in the process. She posted a third place finish in her prelim feature last year, and tied the highest ever finish by a female in Saturday night’s A-Main with a 18th place run. After running this past summer with Keith Kunz Motorsports, Avedisian will be piloting the same #71 in Tulsa that she drove to her Xtreme championship. Look for that pre-existing chemistry to lead to positive results throughout this week, and potentially even a preliminary night victory.
Brent had a breakout performance in Tulsa last January. In only his second Chili Bowl
appearance, he tallied a 3rd place effort on his preliminary night. The fact that Crews was only 14 years
old during that effort was crazy. Now 15 years old and coming off a year with more experience under his belt, Crews now teams up with Keith Kunz Motorsports this time around, having ran for Paul May Motorsports last January. The youngster will be looking to build off last year’s impressive run as he continues to develop as a driver.
The 2022 Chili Bowl Champion was so close to going back-to-back last January, but
ultimately fell runner up to Logan Seavey. He won his prelim night in 2020, and since then his A-Main
finishes at on the nights he’s raced at Tulsa are 22nd , 4th , 3rd , 2nd , 1st , 1st , and 2nd. It’s evident that Thorson has taken a likening to the Tulsa Expo Center, as he clearly has been one of the most consistent drivers at the Chili Bowl in recent years.
The now three-time golden driller winner Axsom put on an absolute clinic a couple of Saturdays ago, dominating the Winged Outlaw A-Main during the Tulsa Shootout. He will look to build
off this momentum and compete for his first Chili Bowl Championship this January. One of the brightest
youngsters in the entire field, Axsom will be piloting a Keith Kunz powered entry this time around, which differs from other rides he has run in years prior. Even with the ride change, you can bet on Axsom being in the mix all week long.
Ricky Thornton Jr.
So, this pick may be a little bold, but RTJ is coming off the season of his life. He dominated the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series last summer, and now has been dipping his feet into the world of open wheel racing more and more. He very well could have been on his way to his first golden driller two weeks ago during the Tulsa Shootout until his motor let loose, which was a crushing blow. Thornton now turns his attention to the Chili Bowl, where he will be behind the wheel of a Reinbold-Underwood car, which we all know have plenty of speed every January.
What more can you say about Logan Seavey in 2023? Not only does he come into Tulsa
as the defending Chili Bowl Champion, but Seavey also resurrected his career in a big way last summer.
He captured the USAC Silver Crown title, and the USAC National Midget title as well. Look for Seavey and
the Kevin Swindell entry to be one of the top contenders again on Friday night, especially after the success that they had last January.
One of the youngest and most talented names in the sport, Timms has blossomed into a
fierce competitor no matter what type of car he is racing. He is coming off his first full season of racing
with the USAC NOS National Midget Series, enabling him the opportunity to further his experience in a
midget. It paid off, as Timms collected 5 midget wins in 2023. Timms looks to better his only other two Chili Bowl prelim night finishes, a B-Main 6th place in 2022, and an A-Main 7th place run last year.
Grant has been on a recent tear during his preliminary nights in recent seasons. He’s
taken the checkered flag during his prelim night in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022. In the only outlier
year of 2020, he still finished 6th . With a track record like this, it’s extremely difficult to imagine Grant not competing for the checkered flag once again on Friday night.
Derick Kriner’s Picks
A driver with only a few starts in a midget in 2023, but has always seemed to find speed at the Chili Bowl. Tanner might not be a favorite to hoist the driller on Saturday, but is a threat to pick up one of the lock-in spots and maybe even the prelim night win which he has done before in the past.
Jerry Coons Jr.
Sitting second in all-time feature starts at the Chili Bowl, Jerry has long been a staple of the event. After missing out on a lock-in spot the last few years, as well as having some misfortunes in his prelim night features, Coons is surely motivated to right the ship. It has been since 2017 since the veteran driver has qualified for the Saturday night show. Look for Coons to break that streak of bad luck with a strong showing during his prelim night.
Nick is one of the drivers flying under the radar at this year’s Chili Bowl. After a 2022 appearance that saw the World of Outlaw Late Model Champion score a Top 5 on his prelim night, more fans will be on the lookout for the North Carolina driver this time around. He has made his prelim night feature event in each of the last two years. If fans are looking for a silent but deadly pick, Hoffman might be your guy.
Few drivers in the world have the personality that T-Mez has, and it has enabled him to become a fan favorite throughout the open wheel community. After debuting with a new team at the end of the 2023 USAC season, Meseraull went through some growing pains. The Chili Bowl has typically been a show that T-Mez has been able to make in the past, and he tends to finish inside the Top 15 in the finale. While a lock-in spot has not been accomplished the last two years, Meseraull does have a streak of prelim Top 10 finishes, stretching back to 2020. A good Tuesday night prelim performance would be a welcomed sight for him and his new team.
A driver that has never met a bottom side he didn’t like, will be looking to roll past the competition on Tuesday to put himself in a prime position for Saturday night. Daum, who has a prelim night win back in 2010, has gone quite a few years in Tulsa without making much noise. The Illinois native is known for being a smooth operator on the bottom of the race track. Because of this, it could help him keep him out of trouble and potentially allow him to work his way into a lock-in spot.
Michael “Buddy” Kofoid
A former USAC National Midget champion, Michael “Buddy” Kofoid looks to rebound from a qualifying night blunder in 2023 with a strong performance. “Buddy” is a favorite in many people’s eyes not only for a prelim night win, but also potentially the driller trophy on Saturday. Aside from last year, Kofoid has made every championship feature he has attempted, which is a feat that very few drivers have been able to accomplish. Never count out the California young gun.
After a recent ride change in the sprint car world, Kyle Cummins looks to prove his worth in the midget ranks. Cummins has shown good speed in the Expo Center before in the past. Prelim night features have not gone his way, but he does have a 2nd place preliminary finish back in 2021. Kyle looks to improve his midget racing career in Tulsa, and I would venture to say that he proves something this year at the Chili Bowl.
You can’t talk about the Tulsa Expo Center and not mention the Hahn family. Blake, who has scored several Tulsa Shootout wins, one coming just a few weeks ago, is always in the conversation at the Chili Bowl. A prelim night contender the last four years, Blake has shown potential to perform, but Saturday’s have been a different story. While a good performance or championship feature appearance is not out of the question, fans would probably expect to see a better result out of the sprint car wheel man on Wednesday night versus Saturday if history repeats itself.
Many fans of midget racing recall not knowing the future of Daison Pursley a few years ago, after he took a massive ride during midget competition in Arizona. One thing that is now apparent, is that the young driver has not let that accident slow him down. Driving with the Reinbold-Underwood team again, Pursley looks to put his team in the show, just like he accomplished last year. He certainly has the team and speed to grab a lock-in spot, and he just might be able to do it this year.
Showing speed during the California USAC swing, and even picking up a win, Spencer Bayston proved that he is still a fast midget driver. The former champion knows what it takes to make a car go fast inside the SageNet Center, as he was victorious in Monday evening’s “Race of Champions” last January. Having put his ride in the lock-in spot in 2023, Bayston looks to repeat that effort in 2024. This could be the year that he puts an exclamation point on his prelim night, this time with a victory.
An ace during the Tulsa Shootout and victor in the latest edition, Axsom is still looking for the same fortune to befall upon him in a midget. Following a 2023 effort that saw a lock-in on the preliminary feature night, and a Top 5 finish during the championship feature, Axsom looks to build upon that in 2024. Emerson should have a great shot to stand on the stage after his Thursday feature, and just might be the one holding the plaque as well.
Now that everyone knows Tanner can win on Saturday, it would seem silly to not take him as a favorite to win on his qualifying night. A stat line that is littered with Top 5’s has quickly boosted the stock of the California racer inside the walls of the Expo Center. Thorson looks to add a third prelim night plaque to his trophy case and a second driller on Saturday evening.
The 2023 USAC Sprint Car Champion has been very close to taking home top honors in Tulsa on multiple occasions. Fans have been treated to watching Grant battle it out with the likes of Kyle Larson for Saturday night wins and also have seen him dominate his qualifying night in years past. 2024 should be no different for the California driver. A top pick of any fan and a threat in the eyes of the competition, Grant might just have the speed to sweep the entire week.
For a former World of Outlaws champion, Daryn Pittman has always seemed to be very competitive when it comes to the Chili Bowl. While the past two years have not been too kind to him, Pittman does have seven prelim Top 5’s throughout his career in Tulsa. Fans should look to the front of the field on Friday to find the driver of the 21. While he might not have the midget experience to compete with the likes of Grant and Seavey, Daryn can certainly set himself up for a good points effort and make his Saturday a lot less complicated.
The reigning champion of the Chili Bowl is coming off of a championship double down with USAC, picking up the Silver Crown and Midget titles. To count out the Swindell Speedlab car at the Chili Bowl would be crazy. After years of success as a driver, Kevin Swindell is making Logan’s job easier by providing a solid piece for him to wheel. As it won’t be a shock to fans if he wins yet another driller on Saturday, as Seavey looks to pick up another prelim night victory this year as well.