Most serious racers want to start their season at the Chili Bowl.
The 28th annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals presented by General Tire Jan. 14-18 at the Tulsa (Okla.) Expo Center comes at a time when drivers mostly don’t have other obligations. And, it gives them an opportunity to race against drivers from other series. You get top NASCAR drivers, top sprint car drivers, dirt late model racers, and even an occasional drag racer all running against each other for what amounts to bragging rights.
NASCAR’s Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson are among the prominent drivers entered to race, with entries still be added.
A handful of Greenfield-area and central Indiana drivers are also headed for the Chili Bowl, including:
Hines, a New Castle native, is a journeyman race driver competing regularly in the USAC midgets, sprint cars and Silver Crown cars. He came up through USAC and eventually found his way to NASCAR. He ran pretty well in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. However, like many drivers, he fell victim to the lack of sponsorship money. He returned to USAC and has more or less made peace with the fact that returning to NASCAR is not in the cards. The exception to this is the NASCAR truck race at Eldora. He ran it last year and plans to run it again this year.
In 2013 Hines finished second in pavement midget points and fourth in dirt midget points. He finished third in dirt midget owner points. To that he added a sixth in USAC Sprint Car points and a third in USAC Silver Crown points.
Hines first ran the Chili Bowl in 1996. He won the championship in 2005; and he has won his preliminary night three or four times.
This year Hines will be in Bob Parker’s Spike/Toyota with sponsorship from Toyota, Parker Machinery and Carolina Nut.
In 2014 Hines will again compete in all three USAC National divisions.
Greenfield’s CJ Leary has been around racing all of his life. Consequently, he is more aware than most concerning what is demanded of those who desire a career in the cockpit. His father, Chuck Leary, invested probably more than he cares to remember in both money and effort in developing his racing skills. When the elder Leary broke his ankles in a construction accident, he needed a driver at the same time that Tony Stewart needed a ride. They went on to win four races together.
Because of his father’s experience, CJ is well aware of the realities involved in becoming a race driver. He is 18 years old; and he is well aware that 2014 may well be a make or break season for him. That is, of course, a cruel reality; however, if a driver hasn’t begun to really establish himself by the time that he’s old enough to vote, his chances of making it to the IRL or NASCAR, his chances for a career as a professional driver, are slim indeed.
Last year Leary began his season driving a midget for Tracy Hines at the Chili Bowl in Tulsa.
He made it to the ‘C’ hooligan on Saturday night. This certainly wasn’t the finish that he sought; however, for the first trip to the rarified environment of the Chili Bowl, it wasn’t too bad either.
He got more midget seat time running USAC’s Indiana Midget Week.
In addition, CJ won three sprint car features at Lawrenceburg Speedway and scored 15 top fives.
This season Leary is, again, starting his season driving for Tracy Hines in the Chili Bowl. He will attempt to transfer from the Friday night preliminary program to the Saturday night feature. Since the Chili Bowl draws upward of 250 cars piloted by some of the top midget drivers in the land, making it to the Saturday night feature is a tall order. However, a good performance in the Chili Bowl will do wonders for a driver’s reputation.
As big a deal as the Chili Bowl is, it is only a prelude to what is planned to be the focus of his season. He plans to compete for the USAC National Sprint Car championship. They have hired Eric Claxton to serve as crew chief for the sprint car program; and Jeff Claxton will build the motors. The team will have sponsorship from Tnemec Paint, Couch’s Auto Diesel and Leary Construction.
Leary has proven that he can win in sprint car competition; and, with first class equipment, he should be able to run well in USAC sprint car competition.
Knightstown’s Parish is 50-years-old and has been racing for decades. The high point of his career thus far was winning the 1997 Hoosier Hundred. The win surprised everyone except Parish.
Parish now picks and chooses the races that he will run. He drives for other car owners. He still loves to race; but he has neither the time nor the money to do it on a full-time basis. He plans to run some USAC dirt midget, POWRi midgets, and 600 cc mini sprints.
Parish will be running his fourth Chili Bowl driving a Spike/Esslinger for Kenny Irwin.
Tim McKinney is a motorsports columnist for the Daily Reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.