Chili Bowl 1998: Swindell Scurries To Win Chili Bowl Midget Crown
The 25th annual Chili Bowl Nationals will be held Jan. 11-15 at the QuickTrip Center’s Tulsa Expo Raceway.
In celebration of the Silver Anniversary of this prestigious indoor midget race, www.nationalspeedsportnews.com will be publishing the race reports that appeared in the pages of National Speed Sport News for the first 24 runnings of the event.
Beginning with the inaugural event in 1987, race recaps will be posted on a daily basis from Dec. 18 through Jan. 10.
Gambles With Topside Run
By MIKE O’LEARY
TULSA, Okla. – Sammy Swindell built his own race track on the high side of the quarter-mile Tulsa Expo Center Saturday night, and when he was finished, he had trounced a stellar midget field in the 12th annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.
NO. 4 FOR SAMMY
It was Swindell’s fourth Chili Bowl victory, a title no other driver has won more than once. Driving a ChannelLock-sponsored Gaerte/Stealth entered by Pete Willoughby, Swindell outdueled Jason Leffler and defending champ Billy Boat for the three-length triumph. After the victory celebration, the 1997 Pennzoil World of Outlaws champion agreed that this Chili Bowl had been his hardest.
Chasing Leffler through the first third of the race, Swindell paced himself, waiting until they caught up with slower cars. This strategy had been a key to his victory in Friday’s preliminary feature. And with the field anchored in the lower groove of the Tulsa oval, Swindell decided he’d have to move to the top of the track.
“I could get in the corner a little than Jason,” Swindell explained after the race, “but we were getting a little stacked up, I thought. So I figured I’d just wait until we got to traffic, sort of like [Friday]. I knew we were fixing to run up on [Lou] Cicconi, and he was on the bottom. It seemed that just about the time I got up there, and got a run, Jason decided to go up. It slowed us up a little bit and I thought Andy [Hillenburg] was going to get by both of us.
“I was the only one up there making tracks for a long time, it seemed like,” he continued. “Every time I’d come back around, they’d covered them up again. I didn’t think anybody was going to get up there and help me. But that was definitely about the hardest five, six, seven laps I’ve run in a long time. I had to really hustle up there trying to make a race track.”
Starting on the pole, Leffler charged hard off the fourth turn to grab the lead from Swindell as the field raced into the first turn on the initial green flag. Running fourth, Hillenburg dived under Danny Lasoski as they went into the first turn for the second time, but he narrowly avoided calamity.
Hillenburg caught Lasoski with his right rear and jumped sideways. Fighting for control, Hillenburg lost critical momentum with the pack roaring into the turn behind him. He quickly steered up to the fence as Boat and Tracy Hines dived to the bottom of the track. The 1994 Chili Bowl champion dropped to seventh by the time he was back at speed.
Behind Leffler and Swindell, Dave Darland, Jay Drake, Boat, Hines, Hillenburg, Kevin Thomas, Tony Stewart, Danny Lasoski and Kevin Doty lined up for the restart. Two laps late, Thomas and Stewart banged wheels in turn four and slid out of the groove. Although both continued, debris from the incident brought out another yellow flag.
On the 21st circuit, as Leffler was slowed behind a lapped car, Drake stuck his nose under Swindell and grabbed second. But Swindell quickly came back on the outside, running wheel-to-wheel. When Leffler moved to the middle of the track to get by the slower car in turn four, Drake dived underneath him, Swindell went high, and as they charged past the flagman three-wide, Swindell grabbed the lead. When Boat tried to follow Swindell through, Leffler quickly moved up to block him.
In the next lap, while Leffler and Boat got past the slower car to chase Swindell, Darland was boxed in behind Drake. Going into turn three, Drake got into the rear of the slower car and spun, collecting Darland. With the track blocked, Blaney, Lasoski and Dan Boorse were also collected.
Boat kept Swindell in his sights for the next 10 laps before they caught traffic again. With the crowd on its feet, Boat charged hard under Swindell as they raced into turn one, shoving ahead through two. But Swindell dived back under the Lawson car entering three, and reassumed the lead as they came off turn four side-by-side.
“We were right together going into one, and we went in pretty hard,” Swindell said. “I saw he was kinda sliding up, so I knew he was going to be in the middle. So I went ahead and just went up to the top and waited a bit so I could get a good run at the other end. Steve Kinser showed me that once he does slide in front of you, you need to make sure that you don’t slide too far and kind of set him up a bit.”
SHOT NEVER CAME
Boat pursued Swindell, looking for another shot at the lead. But it didn’t come. On lap 45, Swindell put Rick Hendrix’s lapped car between them and Boat was hung up behind Hendrix for a half-lap. Going into turn three, Boat and Hendrix made contact and both spun.
Leffler tracked Swindell’s tail tank through the final four-lap sprint, but wasn’t able to put together a challenge. He closed within a couple feet in turn three, but couldn’t stay with Swindell. Hillenburg, Doty, Ricky Shelton and Drake followed Swindell and Leffler under the checkered flag. In addition to the winning car, the Willoughby team claimed four of the first six positions.
“I got off of four in the wrong spot and got up in the black, and lost a little momentum,” Leffler said. “I don’t know if I’m ready for the Outlaws tour yet. It’s a hard race and I was a little tight.”
After the race, Boat contained his frustration. “Rick [Hendrix] was trying to race the leaders and he just got in the way,” he said. “You know, everybody’s here racing. Lapped traffic is tight, the Chili Bowl always has been and always will be. Sometimes it works for you and sometimes it works against you. Tonight we lost.”
Feature (50 laps):
- Sammy Swindell;
- Jason Leffler;
- Andy Hillenburg;
- Kevin Doty;
- Ricky Shelton;
- Jay Drake;
- Tony Elliott;
- Kevin Thomas;
- Kevin Olson;
- Richard Griffin;
- Tracy Hines;
- Donnie Beechler;
- Dave Darland;
- Lou Cicconi, Jr.;
- Dan Boorse;
- Billy Boat;
- Rick Hendrix;
- Danny Lasoski;
- Dave Blaney;
- Tony Stewart;
- Randy Koch;
- Cory Kruseman.
Thursday Night Preliminary: Jason Leffler
Friday Night Preliminary: Sammy Swindell