(Reprinted from 01/19/2016 Area Auto Racing News)
Fourteen competitors with strong ties to the Amercian Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) competed in the Lucas Oil 30th Annual Chili Bowl Nationals at the Tulsa Expo Raceway in Tulsa, OK. Their results were impressive to say the least. ARDC is certainly steeped in the history of midget racing but the results this week serve to show the level of competition that the organization produces.
Regular ARDC competitors, Troy Betts, Alex Bright, Brenden Bright, Steve Buckwalter, Shawn Jackson, Trevor Kobylarz and Nick Wean were entered in their regular mounts. John Heydenreich, the 1990 Chili Bowl Champion who hails from Bloomsburg, PA was entered with his No. 22. Tyler Brehm made his third Chili Bowl attempt in Buckwalter’s second entry. Danny Stratton was named to one of two entries for three time Chili Bowl Champion car owner, Andy Bondio for the second year in a row. Tanner Berryhill and Larry Wight were the drivers in the two Mike Heffner owned entries. Isaac Scheurs competed in a second Bright No. 92 while Eric Heydenreich would try his hand at the Chili Bowl in a second Johnny Heydenreich entry.
And the results came rolling in. Heats and qualifying races were won. Nine drivers raced in the A Main on their qualifying nights. Two drivers won their feature events on Saturday. Four drivers advanced to second events during Saturday’s competition.
Alex Bright came to the 2016 Chili Bowl with a best finish of third on his qualifying night and fourth in the Saturday night big event. It wasn’t long before Bright was on his way to improve on that performance.
Guided by crew chief, Eddie Heffeline, Bright knew what he needed to accomplish every time he went out on the track. Each time, Bright was given a goal to accomplish. “Just finish the heat race (where he started 5th) – try to get a top three, that would be good.” Bright finished second. Knowing that if he finished fourth in his qualifier he would be in the A Main. When it came time to roll out the A Main, again Bright received instructions. Starting 8th, “a top ten would be good, a top five would be awesome.”
When the A Main got underway, Bright raced on the inside of the track. Sitting in sixth, he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to advance by running on the inside so he moved to the top. “I started working it in more and more and then I realized that there must have been guys behind me (who had run the top) because it got cleaned off real quick.”
Bright was up to second and closing in on leader, Kyle Larson. When Larson tangled with a lapped car, Bright was in the right place at the right time.
Bright performed well under pressure as Jonathan Beason, the outside polesitter, threw wild slide job after wild slide job at Bright. But Bright concentrated on being smooth and hitting his marks and when the checkered flag waved, Bright beat Joey Saldana to the finish line for the win.
It was one of the biggest wins of Bright’s career – ranking right up there with his win in the Magic Man 34 in Australia. “To come out here and win after just some humble advice and being calm – it’s an awesome fete!”
Tyler Brehm was the first to compete on Tuesday night. In his third Chili Bowl competition, Brehm won his first Chili Bowl heat race and got the ball rolling. After finishing second in his B Main, Brehm started his first qualifying night A Main. Brehm’s strong performance on opening night found him starting in the second D Feature on Saturday where he raced his way into the C Feature.
Brehm has shown significant improvement in each of his Chili Bowl attempts and is already making plans for what he needs to do as a driver to improve next year. “Most people think if you made the B or C on Saturday you’re doing well,” Brehm commented. “I think if you make even the F, you’ve done well.” Looking at the line-ups of the B & C Features that could have been A Mains on any other race day, we would have to agree. His heat win and A Main start will have Brehm’s name recorded in Chili Bowl history for years to come.
Nick Wean also competed on Tuesday night, winning his heat race (his 3rd in Chili Bowl competition). Wean collected enough passing points to move into Tuesday night’s A Main. Wean discovered early on the going slower was actually faster. “I found out that if I didn’t run as hard, I was faster,” Wean commented after his qualifying efforts. A 16th place finish in the A Main moved Wean into the second C Feature on Saturday where a racing incident would finish out Wean’s Chili Bowl competition.
After his brother’s performance on Tuesday, Brenden Bright was up to qualify on Wednesday. Bright ran well in last year’s event but was sidelined with mechanical issues.
A strong run in his heat did not result in enough passing points so Bright was relegated to the night’s first B Main where a third place finish transferred him into the A Main, starting 21st. When the checkered flag waved on the night’s A Main, Bright had a top ten finish. Bright continued to race to the front throughout the twenty five lap race, finishing ninth at the finish line.
His Wednesday night performance put Bright in the First B Feature on Saturday with some pretty stiff competition with names like Pitman, Hines, Gardner and Boat. Bright ran well but a slow leak in the right rear tire took the No. 92 out of competition and his 2016 Chili Bowl came to an end one race early.
Shawn Jackson finished third in his heat race but had to race from the back of his qualifier. Jackson’s passing points put him into the first B Main on Wednesday night but Jackson was unable to transfer to the A Main. On Saturday, Jackson started fourth in the first H Feature and quickly moved his Elite Chassis No. 7 to the front, taking the win in the ten lap event. Jackson moved into the first G Feature to complete his 2016 Chili Bowl experience.
Steve Buckwalter accumulated enough points in both his heat and qualifier to put himself into the A Main Field on Wednesday night, starting 13th. Buckwalter raced inside the top ten for most of the twenty-five lap race but a late race caution found him shuffled back, finishing 12th at the checkered. A fourth place finish in the first C Feature on Saturday moved Buckwalter into the first B main and another chance to qualify but a late race, multi-car incident took Buckwalter out of contention.
In his first ever start in a midget, let alone a Chili Bowl start, modified hot shoe, Larry Wight, drove from the back to the front to win his heat race, accumulating enough points for a 15th place start in the Wednesday night A Main. While Wight was sidelined in a lap 22 incident, he certainly drew a lot of attention with his ability. On Saturday, Wight was again moving to the front of the field when he was caught up in a multi-car incident. Wight did a great job in his first Chili Bowl appearance.
Bloomsburg, PA driver, Eric Heydenreich jumped into a second John Heydenreich entry and competed in the heat race but did not move on in the competition.
Troy Betts made his first Chili Bowl start this year during Thursday night qualifying. Betts started the C Feature. Betts ran well in his events but struggled on restarts. The problem was later diagnosed as a timing issue and corrected. Betts started in the back of the second K Feature on Saturday and finished 7th after restarting at the rear. A good effort but one that fell short of a transfer spot.
South Dakota driver, Isaac Scheurs piloted a second Bright No. 92 entry in Thursday night events. After some issues on qualifying night, Scheurs came back on Saturday to pick up the win in the first L Feature. Scheurs’ efforts concluded with a run in the K feature event.
Tanner Berryhill, the 2009 Chili Bowl Rookie of the Year, was in the cockpit of a second Heffner entry. After a win in his heat and a second place finish in his qualifier, Berryhill started in the Thursday night A Main where he finished 16th. On Saturday, Berryhill raced to a 7th place finish in the first C Feature, missing a transfer spot by one position.
Danny Stratton, behind the wheel of the Andy Bodio No. 47x, finished third in his heat and then his qualifier, moving him into the Thursday night A Main with a third place start. Stratton quickly moved up to second in the A Main. Stratton ran second until lap ten. While racing with Justin Allgaier for position, contact was made with Stratton getting turned around in turn three. He restarted in the rear and finished 17 after twenty-five laps. Stratton ran in the second C Feature on Saturday but was unable to transfer.
Friday’s qualifying saw John Heydenreich lead a few laps in the first C Feature before he dropped from the event. Heydenreich did not compete on Saturday.
Trevor Kobylarz racked up enough passing points in his heat and qualifier to move into the A Main on Friday night, starting 16th. Kobylarz finished 13th in the Friday night A Main, moving Kobylarz into the first C Feature on Saturday. Kobylarz raced the entire C Main in a transfer position but was taken out of contention by another competitor, just two laps from the finish.
Alex Bright earned a third place start in the 55 lap Lucas Oil 30th Chili Bowl. Match races were used to determine the starting line-up for the top twelve positions in the Pizza Express Pole Shuffle. Bright picked up the win over Rico Abreu and then lost in the next round to Christopher Bell.
Bright raced in the top three for most of the race. Contact was made while racing with Tim McCreadie for position with 33 laps on the books. After ending up on the roll bars, Bright was set on his wheels and restarted at the rear of the field. When the checkered flag waved at the end of 55 laps, Bright crossed the line in 15th. Not the outcome he had hoped for but a valiant effort none the less.
Yes – the folks in Tulsa knew that ARDC was there!