What to Watch on Chili Bowl Championship Saturday

There are so many storylines to follow from dawn until midnight


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The theme of the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals is the journey and the respective paths each of the record 381 entries over five days of preliminary competition.

Those paths, fraught with challenges, adversity and occasional irreverence, then converges on Championship Saturday. It's where Canadian dirt track promoter Glenn Styres and five-time Chili Bowl winner Sammy Swindell somehow ended up together in the same N-Main. It's where Cup Series champion Chase Elliott will share an E-Main with hard-luck would-be-favorite Logan Seavey.

If Chili Bowl is a collection of chapters that make up a larger story, Championship Saturday is that 'rising action' that leads to the 'climax' with the 55-lap main event serving as the 'resolution' to everything that preceded it.

There are so many fascinating sub-plots to Championship Saturday that they all can't be listed here. 381st seeded Jackie Burke and top-seeded Justin Grant have two different agendas but they both invested the time and resources to be in the Tulsa Expo Center over the past seven days.

Take a little bit of time to delve into some of those stories, even if they haven't been chronicled here, because the journey is always more important than the destination. With that said, it's time to crown a champion, and these are some of the most fascinating storylines to follow on Championship Saturday.

- Cruz Pedregon is a two-time NHRA champion but will wake up at the crack of dawn to compete in the very first race of the day. Pedregon has appeared in five Chili Bowls but not since 2010. How much soup can The Cruiser consume?

-In the second day-opening Q is west coast Sprint Car ace Ryan Bernal, who needed a considerable repair job after a massive flip in his heat race, which cost him the rest of his Friday preliminary. Thus, the three-time A Main starter will also need to show up hungry on Saturday. Bernal has since scratched.

- Five-time race winner Sammy Swindell was disqualified for spinning Caleb Saiz on the final lap of C2. It was a dubious race control call, candidly. Even at 63, Swindell is #StillWinning and will slam his way up the ladder during the morning hours. It will be a very fun shoe to watch, even if it's not another appearance during 'TV time.'

- 2019 Snowball Derby winner and ARCA Racing Series winner Travis Braden is making his dirt debut in the Chili Bowl Nationals, and while the results are secondary to the experience, it will be a continued joy to see his expounding joy throughout the day even after his elimination. He and Jess Ballard have had a blast this week on Tulsa Time.

-2018 POWRi National Midget Series champion Tucker Klaasmeyer was a savvy pick to make the feature from Friday's preliminaries but everything went wrong. He lucked out in the draw and started last but spun and lost points. He won his D, but couldn't quite advance into the B from the C. His day starts in the N, and the Kunz driver has the tools to advance several times throughout the day and sell some tee shirts if nothing else.

-NASCAR notables Ryan Ellis (K1), Jesse Little (M2) and Carson Hocevar (J2) aren't dirt racers by trade, and not by a long shot, but this is something they are starting to enjoy doing. Follow their journeys just to see racers having fun racing freed of the pressure of expectations and results.

- JJ Yeley still owns the record, now tied with Jason McDougal from last year, for the most amount of feature transfers in Chili Bowl history in 2004. That run sent him from the F to the A. Now driving for Glenn Styres, Yeley will need to channel that same drive to advance from the F again. Yeley is still one of the most naturally talented open wheel dirt racers in history and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the 45-year-old consume a couple of bowls of soup.

- Logan Seavey has been a Golden Driller contender for much of the past decade with top-15s over each of the past four years. He is very well capable of matching the 2004 Yeley F to A run driving for Swindell SpeedLab. He only finds himself in this position due to a lot of misfortune during his Friday preliminary run.

- Kyle Larson says Chase Elliott is starting to look like a legitimate dirt track racer after aggressively throwing sliders and mixing it up during his heat and B-Main on Monday. Elliott is going to need that aggression to advance at least once because the 2020 Cup champion starts 13th in F13. If he can race into the top-five at least once, that would be an incredible achievement for the two-time Snowball Derby winner.

- Already one of the greatest to do it in an open wheel dirt car, 10-time World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz wants to make a Chili Bowl Midget Nationals feature before his career comes to a close. He has his work cut out for him starting fourth in D1, but it's going to be fun to watch the Spike Chassis house car should Schatz advance into the C and what they call 'TV time.'

- Taylor Reimer says she will win a USAC Midget race this year. Who is to question a champion athlete of her credentials? Already the youngest female winner in Port City Raceway history, Reimer lost four years of her career as she became a championship winning NCAA cheerleader at Oklahoma University. She returned to racing this past year and showed flashes of potential to race for wins. She starts 10th from D1.

- Chase Briscoe starts his night seventh in C1, looking to return to the feature for the first time since 2017. Briscoe says he has a car capable of it. He just didn't entirely nail his set-up on Monday and was a little unlucky.

- Carson Kvapil starts 12th in C1. While the son of NASCAR regular Travis is earning a reputation as a top pavement prospect with numerous touring wins and a freshly signed deal with JR Motorsports, he's also an accomplished Midget race who is a sneaky pick to make the feature after starting in television time.

- Some of the World of Outlaws biggest stars are shining bright in Tulsa this week. In addition to Schatz making another run at the Golden Driller, reigning champion Brad Sweet and runner-up David Gravel are seeking another feature appearance and will start from B2. They will be joined by Kasey Kahne in that feature who will be chasing World of Outlaws rookie of the year honors in 2022.

- Jason McDougal was The Show last year, trying JJ Yeley's 2004 Alphabet Soup run from an I to a D before last lap contact from Ryan Bernal eliminated him from a shot at making the televised portion of the event. Seeking his second career feature appearance, JMac has looked like a major contender this week, scoring the most points in his preliminary night, and starting his night seventh from B2. He called the circumstances surrounding his unfortunate Alphabet Soup run a ‘blessing in disguise’ in hindsight because he became a more recognized brand as a result of that performance.

- Kaylee Bryson is seeking to become the first woman to make the main event and will start her run from 10th in B2, needing to finish in the top-seven to make the feature. In simply taking the green flag, she will join Bev Griffis in 1989 as just the second female racer to start the semi-main on Championship Saturday.

- By this point, we know the storied history of Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell over the past five years on both dirt and in NASCAR. The most likely outcomes on Saturday each involve the winners of the past five Chili Bowls once again being in contention and both are going to start somewhere in the top-10.

- Even though Bell and Larson remain the favorites, it doesn’t feel like a fait accompli that they will win as Buddy Kofoid already defeated Larson on the Tuesday preliminary and Justin Grant also defeated Larson in the Race on Champions. Grant has been knocking on the door for a Chili Bowl win for each of the past five years. Rico Abreu once again won his prelim and is always capable of winning in Tulsa. Kevin Thomas Jr. will have track position early and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start inside the top-10 for the first time in his Chili Bowl career. Track groundskeeper Brad ‘Gravel’ Chandler intends to work in a track that has two distinct grooves and isn’t as susceptible to locking down as early as the past two years. His team has successfully achieved that result all week.