TULSA, Okla. – Logan Seavey held off a determined charge from defending champion Tanner Thorson on Saturday night to win the 2023 Chili Bowl Nationals and give Kevin Swindell his first victory as a car owner in the Super Bowl of Midget Racing.
Starting from the pole, Seavey surrendered the top spot mid-race to Cannon McIntosh but regained it after a restart with 26 of 55 laps left on the one-fifth mile indoor track at Tulsa’s Expo Square.
Thorson overtook McIntosh for second place soon thereafter, but with Seavey running the middle in Turns 3 and 4 and protecting the bottom through Turns 1 and 2, Thorson couldn’t find a way around the race leader and was frustrated in his attempt to become the fifth driver to earn consecutive Chili Bowl titles.
One of the four drivers to accomplish that feat is Swindell who won a record four straight Chili Bowls before an accident in the 2015 Knoxville Nationals left him paralyzed from the waist down. Swindell turned his energies to car ownership, and his efforts bore fruit with Seavey on Saturday.
“It’s indescribable,” said Seavey, who won the event for the first time. “It really didn’t hit me until I held the driller (Golden Driller trophy). This is something that will never be topped. Hopefully, we can get a few more. But for now, I’m going to enjoy this one as much as possible.
“Man, I just can’t say enough about Kevin and this whole race team he put together. A week ago, we were trying to get the (car) to start, and it never even fired. To be here in Victory Lane at the Chili Bowl is indescribable. I’m at a loss for words, really.”
With victory in sight on what would have been the final lap, Seavey had to survive a final caution when two-time Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu spun. But the final green-white-checkered-flag restart provided more of the same, as Seavey kept Thorson at bay for two more laps.
“The curb in (Turns) 1 and 2 was so big the whole race,” Seavey said. “We never really went up there for a lap at all. I was able to cut to the middle there early and find a lot of speed. I thought we would get to the curb eventually. I kept myself really free.
“I never got there in 1 and 2 but my stuff was good enough to carry speed through the middle. It did curb up in 3 and 4, and it got really big on the exit of four. If I hit it really good, I could get a launch and get into 3. I could see I was gapping him down the front stretch so I knew if I hit it right, I could gain a little bit in 3 and 4, but I could see his nose every time, and I could smell rubber.
“But my car wasn’t getting through the rubber really good. I almost got myself in trouble. As soon as I got down, I instantly gripped up a bunch. I knew if I hit the bottom, it would be really hard for him to go around us.”
McIntosh finished third, followed by Shane Golobic and Emerson Axsom. Kyle Jones, Mitchel Moles, Trey Marcham, Tim Buckwalter and Justin Grant completed the top 10.
Thorson tried once to move Seavey with his bumper, but he was determined not to wreck the leader. In fact, the two raced as cleanly as they raced intensely.
“I wasn’t going to dump him,” Thorson said. “But I got into the middle and caught a little bit of rubber, and I got a good run on him, and I definitely got into the back of him. I was trying to get him up off the bottom and get underneath him.
“I got close to him one time and tried that one time… I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I’ve grown up with him—his family, my family—and we’ve been together every weekend racing cars and growing up. He’s one of the biggest bad-asses in motorsports, and he hasn’t been able to show it the last couple of years.
“But he is one of the best in midget racing, and now that he’s with Kevin in that car, he just showed it.”
Jade Avedisian came home 18th after running as high as ninth, matching Kaylee Bryson’s finish last year as the top female driver in Chili Bowl history. Bryson also qualified for the A-Main, finishing 22nd, as two female drivers made the same main event for the first time.
Two of the early favorites ran out of luck before they could mount rallies on Saturday. Buddy Kofoid started deep in the second D Feature and made little progress toward the front of the field before he was collected in a wreck not of his making.
The two-time USAC National Midget Champion fell out of a frustrating Chili Bowl without advancing.
New Zealander Michael Pickens started on the pole for the first E Feature and advanced to the D, but the Kiwi was mired deep in the field in his second Saturday race and was eliminated.
Both Kofoid’s and Pickens’ failures to launch can be attributed to a track that took an inordinate amount of rubber on the bottom and reduced their respective features to one-lane racing.
On the positive side, Saturday’s “alphabet soup” produced a record run by Claremont, Oklahoma’s Kris Carroll, driving for Reed Racing. Starting in the second N Feature, Carroll advanced to the H Feature before being eliminated by one position in that race.
All told, Carroll competed in seven feature races on Saturday, eclipsing the mark of six shared by J.J. Yeley, Jason McDougal and five-time Chili Bowl winner Sammy Swindell.
Yeley’s 2004 feat, however, remains the most impressive, given that the former USAC Triple Crown winner advanced from the F-Main to the A-Main though larger fields and stiffer competition.
There was an anxious moment in the second of the two C-Mains when Daniel Whitley’s car flipped coming to the white flag and burst into flames. With help from the emergency crew, Whitley escaped the burning car in short order, but the accident cost him a transfer position into the second B-Main.