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Inside the Tanner Thorson, Christopher Bell Chili Bowl Duel

Tanner Thorson didn't want to lead early and this was why.


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In the days leading up to the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals feature, Tanner Thorson was adamant that he wanted to be the hunter and not the hunter.

The first 35 laps of the 55-lap main event was a textbook relay of why.

Christopher Bell surged ahead from the pole over the first several runs until he repeatedly caught Chase Johnson at the tail-end of the 24-car field. Johnson is no pushover. He is a three-time feature starter in Tulsa and a winner in several west coast Sprint Car touring divisions. Further, he was one of just 24 drivers out of 381 that made the main event.

He was impossible to pass in that moment, and Bell was left with few options.

"He doesn't suck by any means," Bell said. "So, it's not going to be an easy pass and the way the conditions were, it just wasn't going to happen."

It placed Bell in a vulnerable spot.

Bell was forced to run the bottom, because he didn't want to be the first one off the quickest way around the track, but Thorson could try to run the top or anywhere else for that matter. Bell had everything to lose and Thorson had everything to gain.

A yellow flag saved Bell the first time, and it still took him a couple of laps to pass Johnson the second time, but the track had opened up from the first run. All told, Thorson just had a much better read on the track through 35 laps than Bell did.

The race was won on that Lap 36 restart when Thorson got a jump on Bell and dived under for the lead in Turns 3 and 4. Once out in front, Thorson knew which lines were better and Bell just started to search around now that he was forced on the offensive.

Thorson had realized there was a little extra grip from the berm in Turn 3 up to almost the cushion in 4. Bell realized it too under caution when he spun his tires under the yellow but just didn’t hit the line under green.

That ultimately won and lost the race for Thorson and Bell.

"Bell was kind of spinning his tires up on one of the yellows through that section (and) I realized there was a little bit of grip," Thorson said. "I saw his front-end kind of pop-up and I knew if I could get my left front on the berm on entry and kind of load the right rear across the center, I could kind of stick it and exit pretty well."

Both drivers had thought to try that line because the top was getting too treacherous.

"As soon as he gased it up under yellow to kind of spin his tires up, I instantly thought like 'well that there's my, there's my line.'

Bell immediately interjected on the podium.

"I had that same thought too, and I didn't do it," he said.

But again, this is why Thorson indicated on Thursday that he wanted to attack early in the race and not defend. It just opened up his playbook as it came time to decide the race.

"It's hard to lead, you know, there's no doubt about it," Thorson said. "I knew I wanted to start on the bottom in this race, but I knew I didn't want to start on the pole either."

Once Thorson got to the front, he could safely run on the bottom and Bell was trying to use the top, that same ole' treacherous top.

"Whenever the top gets like that, it's side-bite to run against it and it's grip to run against it and you run against it as hard as you can," Bell said. "But there’s a line and a limit. You can hit it at X mph, but if you go one mph over X, you’re going to push.

"You have to do it once to find out where the limit is, and unfortunately I did it before (Thorson) did it."

Bell bobbled and Thorson drove away to win his first Golden Driller -- a trophy the former had won three previous times.

"You want to see my trophy," Thorson playfully jabbed Bell at the start of the press conference.

"I know what it looks like," Bell said.

The two will surely continue to add to their totals in the coming years.