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As usual, Chili Bowl racing spicy

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KEITH Kunz and Pete Willoughby have spent the past few weeks preparing for what, for them, is the biggest race of their season.

But the Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Okla., is not just a race. It is a five-day marathon against nearly 300 of the best racecar drivers in the land teamed with the top mechanics.

The task of preparing four midgets for competition at this level is not easy. And this year, it was complicated by delays in obtaining some of the necessary components such as quick-change rear ends, power steering units, etc.

The holiday schedules of suppliers and shipping problems all combined to push the completion of the cars back to the point Kunz and

his crew were probably

still tightening fasteners as the cars were pushed into

the trailer.

Jan. 15

Caleb Armstrong won the ninth heat race from the outside of the first row and followed that up by winning his qualifier from the outside of the second row. This put him on the outside of the

first row for the start of

the feature.

Chris Andrews had garnered enough points to start on the pole. Andrews took the initial lead with Armstrong

in tow.

However, a bad restart following a Lap 2 caution dropped Armstrong back to fourth place. Armstrong gradually worked his way back to the front and took the lead on Lap 13. However, the real test was yet to come.

On Lap 21, Nick Knepper blew his engine, depositing its oil on the inside of Turns 1

and 2. He then jumped the cushion and put his mount in the fence.

After the track crew worked the oil into the

track and the race was restarted, Armstrong’s real problems began.

Sammy Swindell, who

had started 13th, was running fifth and was coming. Five-time Chili Bowl champion Swindell passed Armstrong in Turn 1 of the final lap.

However, Armstrong got past Swindell in final two turns and forced Swindell to settle for second.

Chris Windom took third and the final ticket to the Saturday Night Feature.

Rico Abreu came home

fourth in his Keith Kunz Motorsports Bullet/Toyota, followed by Brad Loyet, Shane Golobic, Brad Kuhn, Jerry Coons Jr., Payton Pierce and Travis Berryhill.

Jan. 16

Keith Kunz Motorsports driver and 2013 USAC National Dirt Midget champion Christopher Bell of nearby Norman, Okla., started eighth and won his heat race.

He followed that up

by starting sixth and

finishing second in his

qualifying race. This put him

on the pole for the start of the feature.

Bell took the lead at the drop of the green flag, but Damion Gardner was going to make him earn it.

However, Bell was able to take the win, followed by Gardner, Kiwi Michael Pickens, Kevin Swindell, Steve Buckwalter, Danny Stratton, Andrew Felker, Tracy Hines, Andrew Deal and Kevin Ramey.

When asked how easy

his night had been, Bell responded, “I don’t know

if that was easy or not, but Keith definitely had me dialed in, and the car drove itself around there. It was avoiding the lapped cars and not getting involved in

anything stupid.”

About racing so close to home, Bell said, “The Chili Bowl is the race to me. If there was one race I could run, it would be here, especially with it being in my

home state.

“I guess this is one of the few times I get to race in Oklahoma, which is around my home crowd. It really is something special to me.”

Jan. 17

The final night of preliminary competition included Bryan Clauson, Darren Hagen, Dave Darland and former Chili Bowl champion Tim McCreadie.

Clauson started third

and won his heat race, and

he followed that up by

winning his qualifying race from the pole.

McCreadie and Clauson started side-by-side on the front row.

At the drop of the green flag, McCreadie pulled away to a half-straightaway lead. However, anyone who thinks that he can outrun Clauson on a tight dirt track does so at his peril.

McCreadie ran down on

the bottom, while Clauson

ran the cushion. Gradually, the track seemed to come

to Clauson.

The yellow came out when Trevor Kobylarz car rolled to a stop, and on the restart, McCreadie again attacked

the bottom.

However, by then, the cushion was the fast way around. Clauson took the lead and left McCreadie to contend with Dave Darland.

By the time that the checkered flags waved, Clauson had developed more than a three-second lead. McCreadie held on to finish second, trailed by Darland, Daryn Pittman, Ryan Bernal, Alex Schutte, Chad Boat, Matt Mitchell, Mike Spencer and Darren Hagen.

When asked to describe the Chili Bowl, Clauson said, “Maybe the only thing close

to it is walking onto the

grid for the Indy 500. The crowd, the beach balls, the craziness that’s going on is the Chili Bowl.” Jan. 18

In the Chili Bowl championship race, Caleb Armstrong and Christopher Bell started on the front row.

When the green flag flew, Clauson jumped into second place and set sail for Armstrong. On the fourth lap, Clauson passed Armstrong, leaving him to contend with Bell.

The first yellow came out when Thomas Meseraull’s car rolled to a stop due to engine failure. As the race neared the halfway point, 15th-place-starting Larson caught Beason, Armstrong and Sammy Swindell.

On the 25th circuit, Larson and Swindell tangled, sending Swindell into the infield.

Kevin Swindell passed Armstrong to take fourth on lap 30. With less than 20 laps to go Bell and Swindell traded slide jobs. Clauson went on to win by more than a second and a half, while Kevin Swindell finished second after starting 14th to take hard-charger honors.

Bell came home third, followed by Alex Bright, Darland, McCreadie, Pittman, Beason, Windom and Chad Boat.

Clauson’s car was wrenched to the win by Rusty Kunz, Keith Kunz’ brother. The win should give the elder Kunz bragging rights at Thanksgiving if they both show up at Perris for the Turkey Night Grand Prix.

Following the race, Clauson said, “I’m just really relieved I didn’t throw it away because these guys are really good.

“I said it last night in the press conference that I felt like I had a car that could compete for the win tonight from the time we unloaded the car; it was going to be a matter of not burying ourselves.”

After returning home, Pete Willoughby commented, “We were disappointed in the outcome, but we were satisfied with our performance. With a couple of breaks, we could have three in the top five.”

Local racers

Steve Arnold — eighth in preliminary heat race, eighth in preliminary “C” Feature, ninth in Championship “J” Feature

Brent Beauchamp — second in preliminary heat race, seventh in preliminary qualifying race, failed to finish preliminary “B” feature, fourth in championship “G” feature, seventh in championship “F” feature

Chad Boespflug — second in preliminary heat race, fourth in preliminary qualifying race, 15th in preliminary feature, eighth in championship “C” feature

Logan Hupp — Hupp’s mount suffered at catastrophic camshaft failure in practice

Chase Stockon — first in preliminary heat race, fifth in preliminary qualifying race, 13th in preliminary feature, fifth in championship “C” feature, 11th in championship “B” feature

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