The 2022 racing season has officially begun with the 36th annual Chili Bowl Nationals wrapping up in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Tanner Thorson captured his first-ever Golden Driller trophy, becoming the 22nd different winner of the event. Thorson outdueled three-time Chili Bowl champ Christopher Bell in the closing laps of the feature, putting his No. 19T Reinbold Underwood Motorsports Stanton in victory lane. Bell led the first 36 laps from pole position but had to settle for 2nd place, just ahead of his teammate Rico Abreu.
“I just knew it was late in the race,” Thorson said. “They came over to the radio and, and said how many laps were down, just like Turkey Night. I knew I had to break Bell’s momentum a little bit there at Paris (Auto Speedway) and same thing here. I knew I needed to break his momentum. And if not, it was gonna be hard to beat him once we got going green for a lot of laps.”
“I just knew I needed to get going. Buddy (Kofoid) was there, pressuring me a little bit. My car seemed to get better and better throughout the run, and it was kind of getting the racetrack with the fuel load burning off. What I learned on Thursday night, I played into the factor tonight and it helped.”
Michael Kofoid and Tanner Carrick rounded out the top five on Saturday night. Defending two-time Chili Bowl champion Kyle Larson ended up sixth, ahead of CJ Leary, Kevin Thomas Jr, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and Thomas Meseraull.
Other notables in the feature race include Tyler Courtney in 11th, Chris Windom in 14th, and Zeb Wise in 15th. Last year’s runner-up Justin Grant rebounded from a mid-race crash after contact with Larson to finish 16th. Kaylee Bryson finished 18th and made history by winning her B-Feature race to become the first-ever female to make the main event.
More than 300 drivers were competing for the final 14 spots after preliminary races began on Monday. Those that had not yet qualified for the main event spent the entirety of Saturday attempting to qualify through a prolonged series of “Alphabet Soup” races as drivers who had not previously qualified for the championship race had to drive their way in through a series of transfers, starting with two P-Feature races. The top six finishers advanced upward to the corresponding O-Feature races, in which there were already several drivers who had qualified based on their performance earlier in the week. Then the top six finishers from each O-Feature race advance onto the next round.
Bell seemed well on his way to a fourth Chili Bowl win but Thorson never let him get away, and pounced at the right opportunity late in the race. It was a tough pill to swallow for Bell, who praised Thorson in defeat. “Tonight, I feel like I probably lost the race because Tanner was in second and searched around a little bit better than I did,” Bell said. “You know, it’s the Chill Bowl; it’s the 24 best Midgets in the world, so the guy that’s running 24th, isn’t going to slide up and make a mistake.”
Brady Bacon brought out a late caution with a spectacular flip right in front of the leaders, which set up a six-lap shootout for the win.
Several high-profile drivers were racing in Tulsa, in addition to those 24 drivers that made it to the main event.
Other notable USAC stars that did not make the main event included Logan Seavey and Shane Cottle. Conor Daly and Santino Ferrucci were the two representatives of the NTT IndyCar Series. Former NASCAR Cup drivers Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne participated, with Newman having success on Friday but not able to make it past the C-Feature on Saturday. Kahne lost a photo finish heat race to Stenhouse Jr on Friday night.
There were plenty of current NASCAR drivers on hand as well. In addition to Bell, Larson, and Stenhouse Jr were Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, and Chase Elliott. The 2020 Cup champion finished 19th in the F-Feature after a frightening flip ended his run.
A-Feature results (55 laps)[starting position]:
1. 19T-Tanner Thorson ; 2. 71W-Christopher Bell ; 3. 97-Rico Abreu ; 4. 67-Michael Kofoid ; 5. 98-Tanner Carrick ; 6. 01-Kyle Larson ; 7. 55V-CJ Leary; 8. 5T-Kevin Thomas Jr ; 9. 47S-Ricky Stenhouse Jr ; 10. 7X-Thomas Meseraull; 11. 7C-Tyler Courtney ; 12. 52-Blake Hahn ; 13. 17W-Shane Golobic ; 14. 89-Chris Windom ; 15. 97W-Zeb Wise ; 16. 2J-Justin Grant ; 17. 47Z-Corey Day ; 18. 71K-Kaylee Bryson ; 19. 29-Tim Buckwalter ; 20. 8J-Jonathan Beason ; 21. 27W-Colby Copeland ; 22. 81X-Dillon Welch ; 23. (DNF) 87-Chase Johnson ; 24. (DNF) 21H-Brady Bacon 
Lap Leaders: Christopher Bell 1-36; Tanner Thorson 37-55
Hard Charger: C.J. Leary +9