The 2016 Chili Bowl Nationals came down to a duel between the race’s last two champions, Rico Abreu and Bryan Clauson, with Abreu coming out on top to defend his 2015 title.
Abreu started fourth in the 55 lap A-Main and after a lengthy red flag period, restarted second with 15 laps left to challenge Clauson for the win. After removing himself from the cockpit of his No. 97 car, he lept into the arms of Clauson in celebration at the Tulsa Expo Raceway.
“I just made sure I was patient,” Abreu told Racinboys.com. “I’m already looking forward to next year. This is my favorite race of the year.”
Clauson started from the pole and led for most of the race until Abreu overtook him.
“Got really tight there for a good portion (of the race) and then right there at the end it widened back up so I could rip in on the curve,” Clauson told Racinboys.com. “I got back to (Abreu), just tried a little too hard in (Turns) 1 and 2. Kind of gave him enough cushion there that it didn’t matter.”
It’s a big way to start the year for Abreu, who will compete full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with ThorSport Racing.
The top five was filled out by Abreu, Clauson, Zach Daum, Jerry Coons, Jr. and Kyle Larson.
1. 97-Rico Abreu
2. 63-Bryan Clauson
3. 5D-Zach Daum
4. 5-Jerry Coons, Jr
5. 71K-Kyle Larson
6. 47X-Tim McCreadie
7. 91T-Tyler Thomas
8. 2X-Thomas Meseraull
9. 67-Tanner Thorson
10. 17-Joey Saldana
11. 8K-Blake Hahn
12. 71-Christopher Bell
13. 67Z-Kasey Kahne
14. 17G-Shane Golobic
15. 77B-Alex Bright
16. 17R-Ricky Stenhouse Jr
17. 24-Tracy Hines
18. 1-Sammy Swindell
19. 71G-Damion Gardner
20. 99P-Dillon Welch
21. 3B-Joe B. Miller
22. (DNF) 71X-Shane Cottle
23. (DNF) 38-Justin Grant
24. (DNF) 21-Daryn Pittman
25. (DNF) 2A-C.J. Leary
NASCAR connections: Kasey Kahne finished the championship race in 13th … Rickey Stenhouse Jr. won the second B-Feature to advance to the main event, and Kyle Larson finished fifth to advance. Stenhouse finished the main event in 16th after a Lap 43 accident with Sammy Swindell. Larson came home in fifth … Christopher Bell was leading when he hit C.J. Leary and spun out early in the championship race. Bell went on to finish 12th … JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier captured the win in D-Feature 2 to advance. He was then eliminated in the first C-Feature in a three-car crash on the first lap … Alex Bowman spun out in Turn 3 of the first E-Feature of the night and wound up finishing 12th in the 10-lap race.
Notable: The race was briefly put under a red flag with 15 laps to go after a fan fell out of the stands and suffered minor injuries … Sammy Swindell was runner-up to Allgaier in the D-Feature and also advanced to the to the C-Features. With 15 laps left in the A-Main, Swindell was caught up in an accident with Ronnie Gardner, who had spun out in front of him … Alex Bright, the A-Feature winner on Tuesday night, flipped in an accident on Lap 33 of the championship race and finished 15th.
More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.
Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.
“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.
“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”
This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.
“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.
“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”
This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.
“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”
At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.
“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”
Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.
“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”
Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.
“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.
“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”