A. Tanner Thorson Lead Photo Online
Photographers snap photographs and a sold-out crowd looks on as Tanner Thorson celebrates winning the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals at Tulsa (Okla.) Expo Raceway. - TIM AYLWIN PHOTO

How Tanner Thorson won the 36th annual Chili Bowl Nationals

The 2021 running of the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals was frustrating for many. The crowd was limited because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that followed. As anyone who has made the pilgrimage to Tulsa can attest, it’s an event not just a race. For many the allure is far deeper than what happens on the race track.

As the clan gathered for the 36th running of the event at Tulsa Expo Raceway Jan. 10-15, there were still concerns about personal safety, but folks were back among their friends and there was optimism that this year would be better.

There were rowdies, people dressed in costume, the track workers were animated and two orange cones named Spike and Johnny the Chicken became stars. The fun was back at the Chili Bowl.

The Chili Bowl is where many of the top teams pull out all the stops to win. Tempers were occasionally short and this led to a surprising and brilliant edict that if fights occurred, they must be driver on driver only and in full view of the grandstands. Fisticuffs on the ramp or in the pits would lead to banishment.

There were concerns about rookie drivers and about the current state of midget racing where some feel that aggressiveness now crosses the line too frequently. More than any previous Chili Bowl, judgment calls on on-track action were made and drivers were penalized accordingly. For some observers this was a long time coming, while for others it was walking to far out on a very slim reed.

Then there was the video board. From the moment Kyle Larson all but admitted that a quick glance at the screen in turn one helped him stave off Justin Grant in 2021 this has been a hotly debated topic among all. This year one participant admitted that misreading the board may have cost him a vital position, others acknowledged it helped, while some never considered using it. Regardless, the board will be moved to turn two next year.

This year’s entry total was 381, with drivers boasting a wide range of experience from every racing discipline imaginable.

Monday

The Race of Champions on Monday was preceded by a silly level of handwringing by fans about eligibility requirements. What this race provides is additional laps on the track ahead of a long week of racing. All were treated to another dual between Kyle Larson and Justin Grant with the latter landing on top this time. Grant was clearly pleased with the outcome but did not overstate the significance of the win. “It was definitely a good test for us,” he said, “We changed the car a lot set up wise from last year, just trying to get better at the end of these runs. We still need to be better for Saturday.”

1. Tanner Carrick Passes Mitchel Moles As He Crashes Leading Online
Tanner Carrick races past as Mitchel Moles bounces his midget off the wall at Tulsa Expo Raceway. – TIM AYLWIN PHOTO

Larson felt he could have made better decisions at various points, but one aspect of his mission was accomplished. “I’m really happy with my car,” he noted. “It is night and day different from where I was earlier in the night, and even on the West Coast. I feel I have a car I can live with now and keep working on it.”

While the Race of Champions provides eye candy for the fans, the most important race of the night was yet to come.

After early feature leaders Mitchell Moles and Jerry Coons Jr. fell by the wayside, Tanner Carrick, aboard a Keith Kunz Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian entry, took control of the main event.

The good news is that Tanner held on for his first Chili Bowl preliminary night victory. The bad news is that he ended his night upside down in turn one.

“I went past the checkered flag and I had no brakes,” Carrick revealed, “The brakes went straight to the floor and by the time I decided to turn it was too late. I have no right rear on the car. It is bone slick. I saved my tire just long enough to finish the race.”

Tyler Courtney was disappointed with his second-place finish.

“Being second three years in a row on Monday sucks,” he said with a wry smile, “but being locked in doesn’t. We’re in the big show and that’s the important thing.”

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