Dirt racers revving up for Chili Bowl

Defending race champion Rico Abreu of Rutherford, California, will be among the record number of entrants for the 30th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire taking place Tuesday through Jan. 16 inside the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Last year, Abreu piloted the Keith Kunz-owned midget to his first career win in the annual event dubbed as the “Super Bowl of Midget Racing.” A record number of entries have been received for the event, with 338 cars entered to compete on a quarter-mile clay track inside the Expo Center.

Thirty-four states and five countries will be represented. Entrants from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand were postmarked by the filing deadline.

Kunz, the reigning USAC National Midget car owner champion, will have three drivers representing his Columbus-based Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian team. Along with Abreu, he will field cars for Tanner Thorson of Minden, Nevada, and Christopher Bell from Norman, Oklahoma, with each driving a Bullet/Speedway Toyota/Toyota TRD/JBL Audio/IWX/Speedway Engine Development sponsored car.

Kunz is a four-time Chili Bowl-winning car owner, first taking victory in 1994 with driver Andy Hillenburg in a car he co-owned with his brother Rusty Kunz. Keith Kunz won back-to-back titles in 2001 with Jay Drake and in 2002 with Columbus’ Tony Stewart, then returned to Victory Lane a year ago with Abreu behind the wheel.

Keith Kunz team manager Pete Willoughby of Columbus has been to the winner’s circle as a car owner as well, doing so back in 1998 when Sammy Swindell brought home the win.

Two other drivers with local ties also will compete next week in Tulsa. Chase Stockon of Elizabethtown will try to make his first Chili Bowl race driving a car owned by Zach Daum of Pocahontas, Illinois. Columbus North High School graduate and late model racer Joe Janowski also will look to make his first start in the event driving a car owned by Michael Koontz of Bloomington.

The late Bob Lowe of Letts was the winning car owner in the inaugural Chili Bowl in 1987 with driver Rich Vogler. Vogler, from the 13th starting position driving the No. 74 Autocraft-powered midget, took the lead in that race with six laps to go.

Back then, there were only two days of racing, and Vogler was not on hand for the preliminary night because he was participating in an indoor USAC Midget race in Rockford, Illinois, North Vernon racer Pete Abel subbed for Vogler and finished seventh in the preliminary feature the day before Vogler’s triumph.

It was the only Chili Bowl victory for Vogler, who was one of the most accomplished open wheel drivers in racing history. He was a five-time USAC National Midget Champion and a two-time USAC National Sprint Car Champion. Vogler lost his life in a sprint-car accident at Salem Speedway in 1990.

It has been announced that for the third year in a row the finale of the five-day event will be broadcast live on MAVTV at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 16

“The Lucas Oil Chili Bowl has developed into a phenomenon among racing fans of all forms of motorsports over the past five years,” motor racing attorney/agent Cary Agajanian said. “Everyone in racing talks about it these days; and because it is always sold out, there will now be thousands and thousands of fans that will understand what we have been raving about all these years.

“Midget racing on a dirt short track is truly one of the most thrilling forms of motor racing. Not only because of the wheel-to-wheel action, but because the fans can see every subtle move made by drivers who display the quickest reactions that you will ever see on a racetrack. For the people that are unable to attend it live, because it is always sold out, they will be able to now understand how very talented the drivers are. Midget racing will now be elevated to a much-deserved and higher level of respect when the fans see the action live on television.”

Lucas Oil to launch TV network

Lucas Oil has announced the worldwide launch of LucasOilRacing.TV, the first streaming TV network dedicated solely to the world of motorsports 24 hours a day, seven days a week.The new network, which launched on New Year’s Day as LucasOilRacing.TV, will broadcast racing, expanded pre- and post-race action, behind-the-scenes content, unseen interviews, automobile build shows and an extensive library of other motorsports content.LucasOilRacing.TV will deliver unlimited access to all types of motorsports racing, including American Sprint Cars, Pro Pulling, GT racing, Short Course Off-Road racing, Modifieds, Drag Boats, Late Model Dirt, NHRA, stock cars, motorcycle racing, authentic build shows and everything in and around the world of motorsports.

The channel will be available worldwide across multiple digital media players and mobile devices.

James Essex is the motorsports columnist for The Republic, a sister paper of The Tribune. Send comments to jmorey@tribtown.com.