LarrE Ervin


On these cold evenings a nice bowl of chili would be great. But going to the Chili Bowl would be even better. Let’s start at the beginning. Many years ago racing indoors was a common winter sport. Back in the early 60’s I saw many indoor midget races in Chicago. And they had been running them since the WWII years all across the country. In fact I was at an indoor sports car race in the Chicago International Amphitheater. The track was nearly a mile around. It ran from one end of the large building, through archways and doorways… room after room and back through the main basketball area. Yes it was stupid but it was winter in Chicago.  We did stupid things on a regular basis. Cold does that to you. So when a few racers in Tulsa wanted to race in January it was nothing new. However they needed money to pull it off. And found it with a local food supplier. A chili manufacturer. What with the Rose Bowl....Super bowl…Orange bowl…..well how about a Chili Bowl? And let’s bring in dirt so it will be the right track for midgets to race on. The earlier indoor tracks ran on the cement floors in the building. They would pour Coke syrup down to make the track tacky. It would get so tacky it would pull the shoes off your feet. Now where would they get the cars from? There were many midget auto racing series all around the country. Most of them ran with very similar chassis and engine rules.

So their rules were simple…it had to be a midget racer. Or at least look like one, ‘cause everyone knew what a midget racer was. The cars came from all over the country. Everyone had fun and a minimal purse was paid out. That was good for the next 20 or so years. By then the honor of winning the Chili Bowl had become real bragging rights for a driver. Any driver worth his name would come to Tulsa to race in the Bowl. Tony Stewart won it a couple times.

Sammy Swindell and his son Kevin won the Bowl a few times and liked the honor. I mean they REALLY liked the honor. They built “midget looking” cars that wouldn’t fit the rules at any other track. But they looked like a midget and could run in the Bowl. These cars are extra…I mean EXTRA light. The fuel tank doesn’t hang out behind the real axle. And Lord knows what else is going on with their “midgets”. That is not saying they are cheating. They aren’t! The car fits what the Bowl will allow. But no body else would build a special car for a once a year $10,000 to win race, when it will cost tens of thousands to travel and stay for a week on the road. The fans have a Love-Hate relationship with the Swindells. So they talk about who can finish third. And how close he can get the Swindells. That may sound like a dull show. But Folks IT AIN’T!  They are the rabbit in this dog race. First over the line (the rabbit) isn’t what counts. It’s the first dog that the fans want to see! Over 270 drivers race their way to get into that 24 car field on Saturday night.  And every one of them thinks he can make it. So third place on Saturday night is a goal for all of them. The fans treat third like a winner!


A couple nights I sat with dust and grit flying in my eyes and racing fuel burning my nose and noticed a familiar face sitting just a few seats away.  It was Indy winner and Champion Scott Dixon. Sitting on the front row. Covered with Chili Bowl dirt and no one noticed. Well, I did give him a wave, but we left him alone to enjoy the racing. Some one said Bobby Unser was sitting in one section and Johnny Rutherford was over in another section. That’s the way it is at the Bowl. The drivers will come up and sit for an hour or two just to watch the fun. Kyle Larson (soon to be NASCAR star) would sit in any open seat. There was Justin Allgaier four feet over there and Tony Stewart a row or two away. And NO BODY asking for autographs. Because we all were equal race fans. The drivers must like being out among their fans and being treated like one of the guys. I know we like having them around as “just another race fans”. Everyone I’ve spoken with wants to see the Chili Bowl, but the seating is limited…and expensive. My six night ticket was $240. LuvRacin had some photographers there (me included) and you can see our pictures on the Chili Bowl (click the box on the front page of LuvRacin). Hope you get to see it live some time…It’s unbelievable.

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Revised: February 23, 2013