Almost 400 Drivers Have Entered the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals
Jan 5, 2022
Having won the 2019 Knoxville Nationals, not to mention 69 victories with the World of Outlaws, David Gravel generally has a good idea of what constitutes as cool in motorsports.
Simply making the feature for the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in 2019 was right up there with his other resume topping achievements. First of all, this is the only Midget race the 410 Sprint Car ace enters each year and he doesn’t have the experience or tendencies of the USAC and POWRi regulars.
He certainly doesn’t expect to take a fight to Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell or Rico Abreu in the same way that he could in his Big Game Motorsports No. 2 Sprint Car. So even racing against them once in his seven attempts in the A-Main over the past decade was a big deal.
"We raced Chili Bowl for Frank Manafort the past couple of years and the year before we made it, we were racing for a transfer spot on the last lap and I looked up at the monitor as soon as we crossed the line and those seconds go by so slow," Gravel said. "And then you realize you didn't make it.
"So, we come back the next year, second to Rico (Abreu) in the qualifier and to see the joy on Frank's face is what this is all about. Making this race is something to be extremely proud of."
Gravel remains entirely focused on winning the World of Outlaws championship, but the Chili Bowl is a combination of fun and valuable for the 29-year-old. This year, he will tackle the week with Rusty Kunz Racing and will attempt to make the field on Monday against Cannon McIntosh, Chase Briscoe, Jesse Love, Tanner Carrick and Nick Hoffman.
"It's a good platform to be a well-rounded driver," Gravel said. "There is a lot of attention placed on that race. A lot of people who matter in the industry there. I feel pretty confident that we can make the show, and there is certainly pressure, but it's not the same pressure like we have in the World of Outlaws."
On the Sprint Car side, Gravel won 11 times and fell short 80 points to Brad Sweet in the championship. In the grand scheme of things, that’s cause for excitement and optimism, especially coming in his first season driving for Tod Quiring.
"It’s good to win double digit races," Gravel said. "We finished third in points three years in a row and I would sit back and wonder how we make up 250, 300 points over the course of the year."
This off-season, the math and the calculations were much easier.
Gravel led the series in quick times with 18, heat wins with 32, pole dash appearances with 48 and average starting position at 5.99. His average finish this past year was 6.3. In other words, Gravel says he owes much of his success this past year to his qualifying efforts and needs to be a tick better in the main event.
"We struggled come feature time," Gravel said. "We have to be better with a full fuel load. The balance just wasn’t always where we needed it to be. But again, when you get to this point, everything is so magnified. It’s all the little things that aren’t really little things."
Gravel was potentially an expired engine away from contending for a second consecutive Chili Bowl Nationals victory. A disqualification on the scales for a Kings Royal runner-up still stings. It’s those little things.
For the next week, Gravel gets to decompress from planning for Florida Speedweeks, which is right around the corner. Chili Bowl will keep his skillsets sharp before the Outlaws season, but ultimately his Chili Bowl is about having fun during what would otherwise be a lull in the off-season.
And there is a lot that transfers over from Sprint Cars to Midgets.
"I think it comes down to being a smart racer," Gravel said. "When to change lines is the same. When to go for it. You can handicap yourself if you’re too aggressive in your heat. The feel of the car is different, especially on a track like Tulsa, but I don’t know what it’s like on a larger track because I’ve only raced Chili Bowl. You turn the car there more or less by applying the throttle.
"It’s just a really fun challenge, doing something a little bit different, and I like getting to Tulsa every year."