Some things to know about the Chili Bowl, which is in Tulsa this week:
Why do they call it the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals?
The original sponsor of the races at the River Spirit Expo (formerly Expo Center) was Chili Bowl, a Tulsa-based company that made pre-mix and pre-made chili for distribution nationwide. It sponsored the first six years but the name remains (Lucas Oil now has naming rights) because “it is kind of unique,” said Chili Bowl co-founder Emmett Hahn. Plus, the first Chili Bowl races were held on Super Bowl Sunday. “So, our Chili Bowl races went head-to-head against the Super Bowl,” said Hahn. “I’ve heard the Super Bowl survived our challenge.”
What is a midget auto race?
It is run on a one-fifth mile dirt track made primarily from clay. The “midget” refers to the cars (the Tulsa Shootout, held the last week in December at River Spirit Expo, are “micro” cars.) The Chili Bowl midget cars are 450 horsepower, weigh 900 pounds and have a wheel base of 72 inches. Some of the top cars can get up to 75 mph.
Why do some Chili Bowl fans wear facemasks, goggles and ear protection?
It is loud, dirty and there is a distinct fuel smell in the air. However, fans love it. Fans come with different protection and gear depending on where they are sitting. Fans sitting near the track will show up in T-shirts with goggles, masks and ear protection. “If you are sitting down low, on the front row, you are going to get some stuff on you,” Hahn said. “You are going to walk out at the end of the night with a souvenir of the track dirt.”
Why is the Chili Bowl so popular?
It is the first major auto race of the year in the nation. No other major American racing circuit has started its season. Thus, stars from almost all areas of American racing — NASCAR, Indy style, drag, motorcycles, etc. — come to race in the Chili Bowl. Plus, since it is held indoors, there are no rainouts or snowouts. The Chili Bowl will be held regardless of how good or bad the weather gets. This week could range from 70 degrees to snow. In addition, Tulsa’s location in the middle of the country makes it an easy trip for fans coast-to-coast.
What does it do for Tulsa?
Tons. There is an estimated $24.4 million economic impact on the local economy, according to the Tulsa Regional Chamber. It is held during January, usually a slow time for local hotels and restaurants. Hahn estimates upward of 70,000 folks will come through the turnstiles during the five days of the event — about 12,000 on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, a full house of 16,000 for events on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. “Saturday night is when it gets hard to walk anywhere near the track or over in the pits,” said Hahn. “You get somewhere and stay there.”