Christopher Bell wins Jason Leffler Memorial in Chili Bowl preparation

Bell Jason Leffler Memorial
USAC / Ray Hague

As racers prepare for next month’s Chili Bowl Nationals, January 10-15 at the Tulsa Expo Raceway, Christopher Bell turned a last-minute entry in the Jason Leffler Memorial into victory with a Lap 14 pass on Cannon McIntosh at the Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin. The 0.2-mile track is similar to what Bell will face in Tulsa.

McIntosh took the early lead from polesitter Chase Briscoe, who will also be in attendance at the Chili Bowl, before he was first caught and then stalked for three laps by Bell. Soon afterward, Bell grabbed the lead, Briscoe and Cory Eliason spun from the top five to keep the field tight for most of the race. Bell scooted out to a sizeable lead from Lap 30-44 until a caution with six laps remaining bunched the field once more and turned the race into a shootout.

Bell’s previous best in this race was a second in 2014.

McIntosh held onto second while Briscoe battled back to 10th from the back of the pack.

Rounding out the top five were Chance Crum in third, Sam Johnson in fourth and Mitchel Moles in fifth.

With the win, Bell became the eighth different driver to win this event in eight runnings. The win also snapped a long winless streak for Bell, who had not visited Victory Lane in a USAC Midget in three years.

This was Bell’s first victory in the Jason Leffler Memorial, but he has been much more productive in the Chili Bowl festivities. Bell won the A-Main in three consecutive seasons from 2017 through 2019. As Kyle Larson assumed the mantle of winner in the past two seasons, Bell won the invitational VIROC race in 2020 and 2021. Larson also has two VIROC wins in 2014 and 2017.

Limbering up should help make the 2022 race another epic battle between Bell and Larson. In 2019, Bell made a last-lap pass on Larson as the pair swapped sliders late in the race. In 2020, Bell and Larson had another heated battle with Larson first and Bell second. Bell was also Larson’s closet competition last year until he hit a rut in the track and flipped out of second with three laps remaining.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)