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The Chili Bowl Midget Nationals is an indoor midget car racing event. It takes place at the Tulsa Expo Center in January, two weeks after Christmas. NASCAR calls it the "biggest Midget race of the year". It is nicknamed the "Super Bowl of midget racing".
The inaugural Chili Bowl is organized by Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards. It was named after a local company who sponsored the first event. The race has been hosted at the Tulsa Expo Center since it was founded in 1987. The 1994 event featured a three-wide battle for the lead between Jones brothers, P. J. and Page and eventual winner Andy Hillenburg from nearby Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
The inaugural 1987 event consisted of 52 midgets competing in the 2-day event. The event now consists of four days of qualifiers for the Saturday night A-main event. One third of the drivers compete in each qualifying night's event, attempting to qualify for the A-main. Each qualifying night has heat races, dash-type events, and a 25 lap feature. Drivers who finish poorly in their heat event in their qualifying night start deep in final night qualifying events and have to finish high in many events to make the A-main field. A driver who started in the lowest "J" event would have to finish high in I, H, G, F, E, D, C, and B events to reach the A-main. The Top 4 finishers in the qualifying night's feature event plus the top 4 finishers the two Saturday night B-main events progress into the 24 car feature field.
The cable channel Speed Channel has televised the event in the United States. The 2008 Saturday night main event was televised on HBO On Demand. It featured a record 286 entries. The National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame uses the event to induct its next class of members.
The event is held at the Tulsa Expo Center (now called the River Spirit Expo), the home of The Golden Driller. It accommodates hundreds of race cars, bleachers for 15,000 fans, and a trade show, all under one roof.
The clay which once covered the adjacent fairgrounds is used for the event. The quarter mile indoor track is not affected by adverse weather or drying from the wind or sun.
Drivers in other series who come from a midget car background frequently race in the event. The 2007 competitors included NASCAR drivers Tony Stewart, Justin Allgaier, J. J. Yeley, A. J. Fike, Josh Wise, Kasey Kahne, and Jason Leffler, World of Outlaws sprint car drivers Terry McCarl, Tim McCreadie, Danny Lasoski, and Sammy Swindell, NHRA drag racing champions Cruz Pedregon and Gary Scelzi, IndyCar drivers A. J. Foyt IV, Tom Bigelow and Billy Boat, and numerous USAC racers. Drivers in 2008 came from 29 American states, Canada, and Australia.
NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, a two-time winner of the event, said,
This is the only place that you can take the best Midget drivers from USAC and Badger [Midget Auto Racing Association], and guys in the Rocky Mountain Midget Association, guys from USAC Sprint Cars and Silver Crown Cars and the World of Outlaws, all the best in dirt open-wheel racing. Those drivers are all at one place for the weekend, and when you've got [all those] guys competing for just the 24 starting spots in the A-Main, you have some of the best racing that you're going see all year all in one week at the Chili Bowl.
USAC Triple Crown winner Dave Darland said, "You've got guys from all over the world. New Zealand, Australia, NASCAR, NHRA, Indy Cars -- you know, there's just all sorts of different competition there, all sots of different levels of drivers."
The A-Main feature is a 50 lap event. Drivers with multiple wins include five-time winner Sammy Swindell, Sammy's son Kevin Swindell with four wins, and two-time winners Dan Boorse, Tony Stewart, and Cory Kruseman. The winning driver wins a trophy dubbed the "Golden Driller" after the 76-foot (23 m) statue outside the building.