Bryan Clauson climbs to mountain top, takes Chili Bowl
TULSA, Okla. (Jan. 18, 2014)—At the age of 24, Bryan Clauson has taken home multiple victories in multiple series in the most competitive short-track open-wheel racing in the world. They include 22 in the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series, where his accomplishments rank tied for second all-time.
But Clauson climbed to the top of the mountain Saturday with a triumph in the 28th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals on the quarter-mile clay track at the Tulsa Expo Center.
It was an impressive win because the resident of Noblesville, Ind., started from third position, took the lead on the sixth lap and held it to the checkered flag at the close of 55 laps. It was the most prestigious of his career because the Chili Bowl had a record 281 drivers in the best midgets in the country.
Clauson’s victory was also both impressive and prestigious because he finished one spot ahead of Kevin Swindell of Germantown, Tenn. Against all odds, Swindell had won a record-setting four straight Chili Bowls. Everybody in the garage figured he had found some kind of major advantage. Clauson buried that theory the old-fashioned way: He had the better car, a Spike-Esslinger, and was the better driver on this night.
“I’m just really relieved I didn’t throw it away because these guys are really good,” Clauson said. “I said it last night in the press conference (following his win in Friday’s A-feature) that I felt like I had a car that could compete for the win tonight from the time we unloaded the car. It was really going to be a matter of not burying ourselves.”
Clauson buried Swindell, winning by 1.5 seconds.
Christopher Bell of Norman, Okla., finished third in the feature. The 19-year-old came through the ranks in the POWRi Speedway Motors 600cc Outlaw Micro Series and Lucas Oil National Midgets. Bell was spotted by Keith Kunz’ Toyota team a year ago, joining the team at the Chili Bowl. He went on to win 10 national midget features, four in POWRi and six in USAC, and the Honda USAC National Midget Dirt championship in 2013.
Other drivers from POWRi had more difficult championship nights.
Zach Daum, the 2013 POWRi National Midget champion, had a promising fifth-starting position, but was caught up in a late-race crash and finished 13th.
“We had a top-five, top-seven and it sucks to finish outside the top-10,” Daum said. “When Kevin Swindell parked (Christopher) Bell in turn three, I got sandwiched by Daryn Pittman and Jonathan Beason and it (contact) broke the carriage house (which holds the rear end to the chassis).”
Swindell had slid in front of Bell against the outside wall in turn three and momentarily stopped completely before getting going. He took second place from Bell with the move and stacked up the cars behind him.
Former three-time POWRi National Midget champion Brad Loyet, who has been driving sprint cars the past couple of seasons and will again this year, finished 15th. He advanced to the A-feature after finishing fourth in the B main.
“We had motor issues in the B and A-feature,” Loyet said. “We got a lap down early the feature and I decided I didn’t want to ruin anybody’s race and tried to stay out of the way.”
Danny Stratton, who is in contention to drive for Shane Hmiel’s Great Clips team in the full POWRi Midget season in 2014, finished second in the B main to advance to the A-feature. He finished 21st.
“I got taken out by Chad Boat,” Stratton said. “It was mainly a racing deal. We were racing each other very hard, running 11th or 12th and we got together. Our night was a hell of a lot better than most people at the Chili Bowl and it could have been a hell of a lot worse.”
Darren Hagen, who is expected to sign with Hmiel’s team and 2012 POWRi National Midget champion Andrew Felker failed to advance out of the first B main to the feature. With the top six moving ahead, Hagen was seventh and Felker ninth.
In the second B main, two-time POWRi National Midget champion Brad Kuhn (seventh), Tyler Thomas (eighth) and Parker Price-Miller (11th) also failed to advance.
For Kuhn, it was the end of a career where he also won championships in midgets in USAC and Badger. He’s retiring.
President of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, Inc. Worked with Mike Hollander since Tapsis, Compuserve, etc. and has posted to the website since the beginning. First Female photo-journalist to be given a garage and pit pass for the NASCAR garage, 1972 at Ontario Motor Speedway. One of first seven female writers, photographers given access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage and pits in 1971. Past President of Greater Los Angeles Press Club, 1992-96, and first female editor of the 8-Ball publication for the Press Club