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Is it Time to Turn off the Chili Bowl Big Screen?

Drivers say video boards have turned Midget races into defensive clinics


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Kyle Larson is a two-time winner of the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, but he credits the most recent one to his eyes in the sky.

No, not NASCAR Cup Series spotter Tyler Monn but literally his ability in recent years to look up at the big screen while leading. While Larson was thrilled to win, he says to this day that Justin Grant realistically should have passed him and set sail if not for the technology assisted defensive line.

Larson doesn’t think the tactic was ethically sound but did what he thought was necessary to win one of the biggest races of the year across any discipline.

"I think everybody knows my views on big screens and like, what's the point, right," Larson said on Tuesday. "Like, is anybody in this building watching the big screen during the green flag runs besides us? No.

"So why are we showing racing? I mean, during the intermissions and breaks? Yeah. Throw your sponsors up there, throw your cool videos up. And once it goes green, just leave the Chill Bowl logo on there. Again, what's the point? It doesn't help the racing that's for sure."

That’s the common sentiment throughout the pit area, too.

"S--tshow," the always blunt Tanner Thorson said when asked about it during the Thursday night post-race press conference that also featured preliminary winner Christopher Bell and CJ Leary.

Bell smirked and nodded, but agreed in a somewhat more diplomatic, but equally adamant way.

"It has very much turned Midget racing into defensive racing, especially here," Bell said.

Leary said the leader might as well have his own personal spotter.

"Yeah, that's what it is," Bell said. "It's a spotter."

Bell says the camera is most likely focused on the leader, and if they're not, you know you're safe as the leader. If they're showing the leader and you're the only one on the screen, you're still fine. If they're showing the leader and the second-place car, it's time to defend.

The topic came up in August during the Knoxville Sprint Car Nationals too, a race also won by Larson, and many within the open wheel dirt industry lamenting the use of live video boards that can be seen by competitors on both ends of the track.

Chris Windom, the 2020 USAC National Midget Champion, says he watched himself and Larson go into Turn 1 on the final lap of the Tuesday preliminary racing for second and still made the wrong move and lost the position to the defending event winner.

Two-time event winner Rico Abreu said he tries ‘not to abuse it,’ because he believes an overreliance on it could mess up his entry into Turn 1 and cost him the spot anyway. Abreu defeated Kevin Thomas Jr. in the Wednesday preliminary and agreed with Abreu.

"It’s going to hurt you just as much as it helps you," Thomas said. "And realistically, you’re only using it on the frontstretch anyway. I glanced up a couple of times tonight, but that’s only because the track was locked down and we weren’t moving off the bottom.

"I guess I got bored and wanted to watch TV."

So, it’s not a perfect formula.

Buddy Kofoid won the Tuesday prelim and says the final 15 laps of the feature was the first time he watched the video board this year. Buddy is one of the taller young competitors, so his visor and name plate often gets in the way, but, he still made use of it.

"I find it hard to look up, you know, kind of deeper into the straightaway, but there were times I started to look up and use it because it’s there, and everyone else uses it, and it is kind of a tool we have at our disposal," Kofoid said. "So, if everyone else is using it, why wouldn’t you start using it?"

Thus, the topic moves into the hands of the event staff and promoters, who have certainly heard the complaints this past year.

When reached by text message, race director Matt Ward says they’re going to move the video board to Turn 2 next year.

"The boards are here for the fans," Ward said. "We are moving it next year so the complaining will stop."

And to his point, there are logistical challenges with eliminating the video board. For one, the fans and crew members in the pit area can’t see the track at all, so they need the two big screens on each end of the track to watch in real time.

Another push back is that the crews who are actively competing watch the race from the bottom of the ramp, and they can only see the backstretch into Turn 3.

Thorson had a wisecrack for that, too.

"Stand somewhere else," Thorson said. "It’s pretty simple."

What about a five second delay?

"Oh, no, no, that would really screw us up," Leary said to laughter from the room.

At the end of the day, the racing at the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals is still very good, and that was a point made by defending All Stars Sprint Car Circuit champion Tyler Courtney, but the video board has only taken away from the product and not added to it.

And that’s to Bell’s larger point:

"I mean, I hate the defensive driving," Bell said. "And that’s a product of the video screen."