Larson Expects to Miss Chili Bowl; Citing Purse as Factor

The defending Cup Series champion expects several contenders to sit out.

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Unless something drastically changes with the purse structure for the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, Kyle Larson will not race in the Tulsa Expo Center this coming January and he might not be the only notable absence.

The two-time winner of the Golden Driller and 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion has long been an advocate of increasing the purse throughout the field but also to win the prestigious event as it only pays $10,000.

Having won $50,000 in the Prairie Dirt Classic, $150,000 in the Knoxville Nationals and $175,000 in the Kings Royal, the $10,000 payout just doesn’t strike Larson as a payout commensurate to the growing prestige of the event.

What likely does seem like a big deal to Larson is the Wild West Shootout at Vado Speedway Park in New Mexico, which will feature five $10,000-to-win Super Late Model features and a $25,000-to-win feature on the same days as Tulsa in 2023.

"So, I've been going to the Chili Bowl for 15 years, it's a great event and I love it," Larson told Racing America on Wednesday. "I've spent half of my life going there. But now that I've started racing in these other big events, against big names, and they just feel like a bigger deal to me than the Chili Bowl."

This is coming from a racer who shed visible tears when winning his first Golden Driller in 2020.

It's a big deal race and a big deal accomplishment, but Larson has conviction that the importance of future wins would mean less unless the purse begins to grow alongside the rate of the entry list, number of race days and broadcast rights across MAVTV and FloRacing.

Larson put the figurative spotlight on event co-founder and promoter Emmett Hahn.

"It's nothing personal against the Hahns," Larson said. "I just don't see the race as one of the biggest ones like I used to because it hasn't grown like other big races have. I want to see it grow for the betterment of the teams who have put so much into making it a really special week

"I'm just at the point where I want to see the purse grow a lot. So, for the time being, and unless that happens, I won't be running it this year and I know there are a lot of racers that feel the same way."

One of those rumored racers is Christopher Bell, who combined with Larson to win five consecutive races in a row until Tanner Thorson captured the Driller in 2022 but he says he hasn’t committed one way or the other yet.

"I don’t know where the rumor started but I haven’t started thinking about Chili Bowl yet," Bell said last month at Nashville Superspeedway. "It’s June, so honestly, I haven’t gotten that far."

That wasn’t an obvious ‘yes’ though for a driver that’s been there for the past 11 years.

But that’s the point, that it’s not a no-brainer like it would have been for marquee dirt racers in the past when the business model isn’t as sustainable as choosing to run marquee Late Model or Sprint Car races instead.

Three-time World of Outlaws champion Brad Sweet says he would for sure, at a minimum, lose $5,000 running the Chili Bowl with the chance to make $10,000 and he’s reached similar conclusions to his brother-in-law as well.

"We all want Emmett to make money," Sweet said. "He’s earned that for the sacrifices to make this event what is today, but at some point, it just won’t be taken seriously with that purse and teams are going to start having second thoughts about whether or not to go."

While it’s always been a talking point amongst the racers, Larson says it’s reaching a sort of flashpoint because fans have taken notice too.

"Over 300 cars," Larson said. "You just have an idea of what they make back on that because the price of a wristband has gone up and we have to spend an extra day there too now."

Hahn, who co-founded the event with the late Lanny Edwards in 1987, took exception to the argument and called the impending decision for what it seems to be … a boycott. Hahn says Larson, nor any other driver, has called him over the past several years to have a good faith conversation about the purse or his overhead as a promoter.

An event spokesperson says the total expense to put on the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals each January exceeds a million dollars when factoring the cost to build the track, insurance for both the Chili Bowl and the proceeding Tulsa Shootout, staff and security for both events, a month of rent for the facility and the purse.

Further, Hahn says he keeps zero percent of the concessions and that the Fairgrounds makes close to a million dollars on the event every year.

"If I had concessions and didn’t have to pay rent, I’d be able to pay more money than what it pays," Hahn said. "I hate to hear they feel that way, but I’m not just going to give them $50,000 like they want because we don’t have it.

"At the same time, I don’t like hearing that it’s not as big of a race because of the purse because what other race is creating NASCAR careers like this one is?"

Hahn repeated multiple times that the event takes a million dollars to produce and that the Expo Center is the only venue capable of hosting it. The event did receive overtures from cities with football style stadiums in the region, but the City of Tulsa made the best offer. The event is set to remain in Tulsa and at the Expo Center through 2034.

Hahn has added $10,000 in contingency money throughout the field and week in recent years as a result of the television rights and city agreements. The event generates $15 million annually to the local economy.

And Hahn says it will continue with or without some of its most recent winners and contenders.

"Bell started this crap two years ago and it’s just a shame because no one has called me," Hahn says. "They have my number. Chase Elliott has my number. I’m really easy to get a hold of, and I would have this conversation with them too but they’ve all gone straight to the media.

"He would rather go to that race in (New Mexico) and that’s what this is really about. I would hate it for fans who wanted to see them, but this race grew without them and will continue to grow if that’s what they choose.

"They are not going to back me into a corner and I will not be backed into a corner."

The 37th Annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals is scheduled for January 9-14.

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