The Chili Bowl Nationals had always intrigued Brett Moffitt.
Moffitt grew up in Iowa, where open-wheel racing was king. Knoxville Raceway was just an hour down the road from his hometown of Grimes. Although he began racing in go-karts and transitioned to dirt modifieds, Moffitt was drawn to NASCAR.
After a promising debut in the K&N Pro Series, Moffitt was recruited by J.D. Gibbs when he was 17. Moffitt excelled, and his future appeared bright within the Toyota camp. When he stumbled in mediocre equipment in the NASCAR Cup Series, the then-22-year-old took a step back to the Camping World Truck Series. It paid off. Moffitt won the 2018 title in his first full season on the tour.
As his friendships grew with open-wheelers such as Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., so did his desire to share their love of dirt racing. Now 28, Moffitt knew the time was now if he was ever going to compete in the Super Bowl of Midget Racing.
“I’m at a point in my career where I was finally able to do it,” Moffitt said. “I’ve always been scrapping to secure a ride in NASCAR—and it has taken 120-percent of my energy to do that. Now, I’m in a little bit more comfortable position and I could risk a little bit of my own money to do this.
“And building those relationships with the partners like Brent (Powell) at Circle B Diecast and Al Niece (Moffitt’s truck owner) wanting to be a part of it. That really helped along the way. I was finally in a position to do it.”
Moffitt didn’t mess around. He went to Larson for advice and ended up with Bundy Built Motorsports in Mooresville. Larson’s former Cup crew chief, Chad Johnston, is part of the effort. Moffitt arranged to drive a micro sprint in the Tulsa Shootout earlier this month. That provided the opportunity to acclimate to the quarter-mile at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
“The biggest thing I learned is you have to be ready to go when they drop the green,” Moffitt said. “Mentally, it helps you prepare knowing the track. Visually, knowing some references as far as corner entry, mid-corner and corner exit.
“The track changes with the bigger midget cars and more power, but a lot of it is very similar. Learning the dirt and how it changes and where you got to run is huge.”
His preliminary night debut on Wednesday was one for the highlight reel. Moffitt's midget race car looked more like a bucking bronco during his hot laps—and this came after his Tulsa Shootout baptism.
“The knee guard pushed forward and hung the throttle,” Moffitt said of his wild ride during hot laps. “It was way too tight, which is why it popped the nose up so easy but then I got in that big wheelie and when I came down, the throttle was pinned wide open."
After adding his name to the flip count, Moffitt’s midget came to a stop--before the No. 14 of Zack Morgan ran into him with devastating force.
“That was unfortunate—but the hit was bad,” Moffitt said. “That was the worst part. I got the car slowed down pretty good by the time I flipped it. So the flip wasn't really that bad, but then that guy came along and just smoked us wide open. That didn’t feel good. I’m not going to lie.”
Moffitt escaped with soreness and few bruises. But his Bundy Built crew members were total rock stars as they scrambled to rebuild the No. 45 midget in time to make the heat races. He finished second to Tyler Thomas in Heat 5, seventh in the third qualifier and fourth in the second B-Main to advance to the A-feature—one of his top goals entering the week.
“A week ago, if you had told me I would make my prelim A, I would have been pretty excited,” Moffitt said. “Unfortunately, as a competitor, once you make the A, you want to do better. There’s always more. But to make a prelim A is special. We still have a shot on Saturday, being in the D-Main.”
Rico Abreu had the field covered on Wednesday night. Moffitt is one of the 70-plus first-timers in the Chili Bowl, and, accordingly, his 18th-place finish in the feature was admirable. Considering that Chase Elliott didn’t advance to the A-main on Wednesday, Moffitt currently has rookie bragging rights.
“Other than the guys in NASCAR with a lot of experience, we’re the top one,” Moffitt said with a laugh. “So I’ll take that for now.”