Two weeks after Christmas, the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals arrives like a gift from Santa Claus. In the Oklahoma metropolis of Tulsa, "Santa" is Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards, organizers of the four-night race meet since its 1987 inception.
The Chili Bowl Midget Nationals...
Initially sponsored by the Chili Bowl food company of Bob Berryhill, these Nationals are known simply as The Chili Bowl: racing's winter answer to football's Super Bowl.
It accommodates over two hundred race rigs, bleachers for thousands of people and an ever-growing trade show. To stroll the aisles of Tulsa's QuikTrip Center, the home of The Golden Driller, is to rub shoulders with champions from across America.
The presence of Sprint talent such as five-time Chili Bowl winner Sammy Swindell is what elevates Midget competition to a level unmatched.
The Chili Bowl's key ingredient is the clay which once covered the adjacent fairgrounds. Without sun or wind to harm it, the indoor garden (roughly a quarter-mile circle) is heavily saturated so that the boldest dirt track artists of our time can truly shine. The benchmark came in 1994 when the Jones brothers, P.J. and Page, went three-abreast for the lead with eventual winner Andy Hillenburg, a hometown hero from Broken Arrow who commands the loudest fan reaction.
It is this action which fills every corner for 50 laps that keeps people coming back. When more than 15,000 spectators walk out the door on the fifth and final night, they are so amazed at what they have seen that they cannot wait to return.