TULSA, Okla. – It was a comedy of errors.
It was a major upset by a relative unknown in the Chili Bowl Nationals during Tuesday’s Warren CAT Qualifying Night at the Tulsa Expo Raceway.
Perhaps it should have been renamed the Murphy’s Law A-Main, because everything that could have gone wrong for the race favorites did so.
When the dust settled at the one-fifth-mile indoor track, Hank Davis was a preliminary night winner, earning his first crack at the Chili Bowl title race. Davis held off charging Spencer Bayston to secure the victory, as both drivers locked into Saturday night’s A Feature.
“I promise you, I couldn’t have ever dreamed of this day,” said Davis, who lives in nearby Sand Springs, Oklahoma, roughly 20 miles from the Tulsa Expo Center.
Jade Avedisian started ninth and came home third, the highest finish ever for a female driver in a Chili Bowl preliminary. Avedisian will start at or near the front of a B Main on Saturday, as she tries to become the second woman to qualify for the A-Main.
What happened before Davis took the checkered flag, however, was a calamity for the pre-race favorites. New Zealander Michael Pickens was running second after an early restart when Davis came up short on a slider and knocked Pickens midget racer over the cushion and into the outside wall.
Pickens exited his car in disgust, knowing he would be consigned to Saturday’s “alphabet soup” with slim hopes of making the 24-car A Feature.
Two-time USAC National Midget champion Buddy Kofoid suffered a similar fate. Kofoid led Laps 2 through 7 before Daison Pursley and Damion Gardner tangled in Turn 1 in front of the race leader. With no clear path to avoid the wreck, Kofoid tried to squeeze his Toyota between Gardner’s wounded car and the wall but ran out of room.
Kofoid’s car hit Gardner’s rear wheel, tipped sideways and sustained enough damage to knock the favorite out of the race. He finished 20th.
That handed the lead to Davis who held it the rest of the way, as drivers behind him swapped positions as they tried to improve their positions for Saturday.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations,” said Davis, who has limited experience in a midget race car. “I wanted to get to the prelim and see where I stacked up.”
Though he gained ground on Davis in the closing laps, Bayston ran the final circuit conservatively, uncertain if he could slide the race leader for the win.
“It got close there at the end,” said Bayston, who opened his week on Monday with a victory in the O’Reilly Race of Champions. “I was kind of surprised at how much ground I had made at the entry to (Turn) 3.
“I didn’t ever think I was going to come close to clearing him… I was kind of committed to stopping—I didn’t want to tip us both over.”
Kyle Jones ran fourth on Tuesday, followed by Jonathan Beason and Kaylee Bryson. NASCAR Cup driver Alex Bowman was running near the front when Pursley spun and came to a stop in front of him. Bowman retired from the race in 23rd place. Pursley recovered to finish 12th.