FERNS: What makes the chili pot so special?

There’s a familiar question brought to the fore recently: “What makes the Chili Bowl so special?”

A variety of answers might come to mind: “It is a legendary event;” “We want to win in the rig” and “I grew up watching/attending the race.”

They are all valid responses and cannot be denied or refuted. To me, the answer is a bit more complicated and offers a hint as to why some racers, teams, and fans are taking the trip to Tulsa, Okla., for the Chili Bowl—a race that pays for little compared to the staggering number of cars that show up each January.

Disclaimer: This is not a column in support of the low purse or an explanation of why the purse has remained the same since the race’s inception in 1987.

Lately, I’ve been referring to the Chili Bowl as “the adult Disneyland for contestants.” Allow me to expand.

For the uninitiated, the Chili Bowl is one of the few events that offers competition between racers from many disciplines, divisions, and levels of motorsports.

Where else might one witness racing with competitors that are IndyCar, NASCAR, USAC, NHRA, World of Outlaws, and late models—pavement, dirt—and micros, to name a few?

As far as I know, there may not be another event that can say the same thing. Perhaps the SRX series might come to mind at first and could be similar to the likes of Chili Bowl, but not quite as much.

The Chili Bowl provides the opportunity to be a career defining race and has developed into being recognized as a motorsports event.

The fact that the racetrack, grandstands, nearly all of the 350-plus race cars, trailers, fans galore and trade show are all enclosed within one of the largest stretch-span buildings in the world creates a spectacle, to say the least.

The camaraderie between the participants and the week-long show-running race create a lively atmosphere that is hard to replicate anywhere else.

Now, to add to the Disneyland repertoire. When sponsors go to Disney, they presumably know and have been advised of the many costs involved. At least that’s the reputation Disney parks have.

The same can be said of the Chili Bowl. Time spent in Tulsa during the Chili Bowl is far from a bargain. Between admission passes, hotels, food and drinks, and regular race car expenses, the costs outpace any weeklong trip to Disney.

Most know they’re going to be in a negative situation even before they show up, unless, of course, they strike a big one one night at the casino or get paid their bills.

Collectively, this adds to the uniqueness of the race.

As contestants in general, but more specifically in relation to the Chili Bowl, the opportunity cost of participating in such a prestigious event is very broad, but marginal if viewed in terms of the potential opportunity that replaces available financial resources.

I think many people can agree that the Chili Bowl is a sight and recommended to attend at least once. I am so grateful to Bob, Janice East, and Terry Klatt for inviting me back for Monster Race #4 on my fifth Chili Bowl.

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to build on the experience we had together last year, make the most of where I can every time on the track and get the most out of my time there. This race will allow me to re-acclimate back to a dirt surface before I return to racing the USAC Silver Crown dirt cars later this season – a form of racing (Silver Crown on dirt) I haven’t competed in since 2014.

Let’s get this season started and thanks for reading.

This story appeared in the January 11th edition of SPEED SPORT Insider.

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