Photos courtesy Patrick Grant Photography

Dig In: 31st annual Chili Bowl ready to feed winter hunger for speed, action in Tulsa

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There’s no beans, meat, green peppers or hot sauce in this Chili Bowl.

But the menu of action will still be plenty spicy to leave fans who attend the 31st Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma hungry for more over the next five nights, starting with Tuesday’s opening round of qualifying (practice takes place Monday).

Action continues Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and culminates with the A Main final event on Saturday night at the Tulsa State Fairgrounds River Spirit Expo Center.

A record 400-plus teams and nearly 55 drivers are entered in the event that is the Super Bowl of indoor Midget racing on a quarter-mile indoor track.

Budding NASCAR star Rico Abreu, who completed his first full season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2016, is the two-time defending champ of the Chili Bowl and is looking to make it three in a row this year.

Abreu is hoping to close in on Kevin Swindell’s Chili Bowl record of four consecutive wins from 2010 through 2013.

Other NASCAR drivers that are entered for the event include Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier, J.J. Yeley and Chase Briscoe (K&N Pro Series).

Some of the other notable short-track veteran other key names entered include Sammy Swindell, Davey Hamilton Jr., Paul McMahan, Jerry Coons Jr., Dave Darland, Donny Schatz (a Chili Bowl rookie), Chris Dyson, Joey Saldana, Daryn Pittman, Cory Kruseman, Kody Swanson, Kyle O’Gara, Damion Gardner, Jac Haudenschild and Chad Boat, among others.

A full entry list is linked here.

holly-shelton

One of the biggest storylines for fans to keep an eye on is 21-year-old Toyota-sponsored driver Holly Shelton, who is seeking to become the first woman in history to reach Saturday’s A Main feature.

Shelton (pictured) also hopes to become the first female driver to reach the B semifinal round since Bev Griffis did so 28 years ago in 1989.

Shelton finished in the top 10 in both the USAC and POWRi national Midget Series standings last season.

Two years ago, at the age of 19, Shelton defeated both Larson and Stenhouse in a Winged Outlaw Kart race at CycleLand Speedway in Sacramento, California.

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NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.