TULSA, Okla. – Surviving contact on the next-to-last lap that knocked his No. 84x car sideways, Christopher Bell stormed to victory in Thursday night’s preliminary A Feature in the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
After colliding with the car of Dave Darland coming to the white flag and regaining control after a nerve-wracking bobble, Bell steadied his car and kept second-place Thomas Meseraull behind him. Bell finished 1.114 seconds ahead of T-Mez, as both drivers clinched starting spots in Saturday night’s main event.
Bell will be going for his fourth straight victory in midget racing’s most prestigious event, hoping to tie Kevin Swindell’s record for most consecutive golden driller trophies. The victory in Thursday’s race was Bell’s fifth straight in Chili Bowl preliminary and sixth in his last seven tries.
It was Bell’s first preliminary win, however, since leaving Keith Kunz Motorsports to join Tucker Boat Motorsports late in the 2019 season.
Meseraull had to be at his best to hold off third-place finisher Buddy Kofoid, a talented Chili Bowl rookie. Meseraull finished .050 seconds ahead of the 18-year-old phenom who commanded high praise from Bell.
“When I look at him, I see me—like right here,” Bell said as he and Kofoid sat side-by-side in the post-race press conference. “When I started with Keith, I was 18, and I sure wasn’t third in my first Chili Bowl preliminary.”
The late contact, however, could have ended a perfect night for the 25-year-old driver, who will graduate to the NASCAR Cup Series in Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 Toyota this year.
“It got me sideways,” Bell said. “I turned my head to the left, and luckily, there was nobody there to come pile-drive me while I was sitting in the middle of the race track. Yeah, all it would have taken is a lapped car or, heck, a lead-lap car to be right there on the bottom, and they would have smoked me.
“I’m very grateful that I was able to keep it going, and nobody was there.”
Bell took the checkered flag at the end of a long-green-flag run. The only caution fell on Lap 4, after Meseraull had taken the lead from pole winner and eventual fifth-place finisher Shane Golobic. Bell, who started sixth, passed Meseraull for the top spot on Lap 12 and held it the rest of the way.
As expected, Bell won Heat 7 going away. Over eight laps on the fifth-mile indoor dirt track he built a 5.7-second advantage over second-place finisher Cody Ledger.
The only drawback in Bell’s dominating performance in the heat was his starting position. Taking the green from the pole, Bell couldn’t avail himself of passing points and started third in Qualifying Race 4.
The result of the qualifier was much the same. Against much stiffer competition that he faced in the heat, Bell prevailed over veteran Jerry Coons Jr. by 3.407 seconds in the 10-lapper. By the end of the race, Bell was lapping deep into the field. Hence, the close call with Darland.
With his victory in Tuesday night’s Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions, Bell has won all four of his Chili Bowl events so far this year.
Meseraull had to leave the track immediately after the race to deal with unspecified family issues.
“I’m got some family problems at home,” Meseraull said in a brief interview in the infield. “I’ve got to leave right now for Indy. I don’t even know how I’m going to make it back. But, you know, that’s part of my life.”
Then Meseraull stoked rivalry between Bell and Kyle Larson, who locked into Saturday’s A Main with a victory in Tuesday’s preliminary. Bell passed Larson on the final lap to win the 2019 Chili Bowl.
“Christopher Bell’s one of the best, if not the best—I think Larson’s better.”
Logan Seavey ran fourth on Thursday night. Spencer Bayston, C.J. Leary, Jason McDougal, Coons and Steve Buckwalter finished sixth through 10th, respectively.