TULSA, Okla. – It’s long been said inside the SageNet Center that there are two ways for a driver to etch their name into Chili Bowl Nationals powered by NOS Energy Drink lore: win it all or run the soup.
One of the most unique aspects of the Chili Bowl format is its “alphabet soup” program for the Saturday finale, which features a sequence of lower mains (this year starting with two P-Features) that gradually climb up letter by letter until the 55-lap championship A-Feature is reached at the end of the night.
The novelty, of course, is watching each event from 9 a.m. CT on to see if any drivers can advance through multiple features before being eliminated.
Depending on where in the alphabet a driver is gridded, the top five or six finishers from each previous main move on to the next higher main in the sequence. P1 transfers move to O1, P2 transfers move to O2, and so on and so forth.
By the time the B-Features hit late in the night, the top seven from each 20-lap B-Feature advance to fill out the 14 remaining grid slots in the $20,000-to-win headliner.
It’s a veritable buffet for race fans and a veritable gauntlet for drivers and teams. For those who advance on, there’s no rest for the weary. They almost literally come up the ramp off the track only to go right back down the ramp for the next main in the alphabet a few minutes later – depending on cautions.
That’s what makes drivers who “run the soup” so memorable: it’s one of the toughest tasks in racing.
A driver’s preliminary night finish helps to determine which alphabet main they’ll land in come Saturday. Those finishing third through eighth in their weeknight main event are locked into the B-Features, while unlucky drivers who end up with C- or D-Feature finishes early in the week kick off the Saturday show.
Usually, there are some big-name heavyweights who have a disastrous preliminary night that land in the lowest mains on Saturday morning, but that’s not really the case with this year’s Driller Day.
The most notable drivers pushing off in the morning hours are NASCAR’s Josh Bilicki in the first O-Feature and MRN and NBC broadcaster Dillon Welch, who starts eighth in the second L-Feature after a crash on his preliminary night buried him for the remainder of the week.
Where Driller Day becomes interesting this year will be in the late afternoon. Kaylee Bryson and her team owner, five-time Chili Bowl winner Sammy Swindell, will both be trying to go from F-Feature to A-Feature on opposite sides of the ladder after failing to make their prelim night main events.
Reigning Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rolls off sixth in the first E-Feature after an early flip left him last in Friday’s preliminary main, while last year’s ARCA Menards Series champion Jesse Love comes from deep in the second E-Feature.
Toyota-backed teenagers Gavan Boschele and Daison Pursley are two of the D-Feature headliners, as is five-time prelim night winner Justin Grant, who was racing for a possible lock-in spot Friday night before flipping from third with five to go and failing to finish.
Grant is, perhaps, one of the drivers with the experience and speed to make a run all the way into the grand finale, but he knows it won’t be easy to come from 13th in his D-Feature all the way to a top-seven finish in his B-Feature in order to make his eighth Chili Bowl finale appearance and fourth in a row.
“I think we can make a run, yeah,” Grant said late Friday night. “I think we could. We’re back in a D. That’s before the (track) rework … so we should be able to race through that. The C is always tough because the track will be wet and heavy, but I think we can do it.
“We have a good race car. We had speed. It was just a tough deal that happened to us.”
Asked what the key is to a successful alphabet soup run, Stenhouse noted that it all comes down to a combination of speed and luck that’s never quite the same from year to year.
“It’s more about catching the breaks,” Stenhouse said of advancing on Saturdays. “I know our car is fast and I’m more than capable. You have to catch cautions at the right time. You’ve got to get good starts.
“I think back to when I came from a F and got to a transfer spot in a B and got moved on the last lap. I got really good starts and then a caution would come out. That happened a few times,” he added. “It takes luck and the cards falling your way.”
Last year, Kris Carroll set the all-time Chili Bowl record for features advanced through during the Saturday program, wowing the SageNet Center crowd with an electric N-to-H run that saw him transfer onward seven times.
J.J. Yeley still holds the mark for the deepest drive to make the championship feature, coming from an F-Feature to make the 55-lap nightcap back in 2004. There’s no telling what can happen come soup time.
“It can be anyone on any given day,” said Clinton Boyles of the alphabet soup in 2021. “You never know.”
That’s the beauty of Driller Day at the Chili Bowl.
Action during the 38th edition of the Super Bowl of Midget Racing runs all day Saturday during Championship Night and the famed “alphabet soup” program, starting with twin P-Features.
Every lap of every main event can be streamed live via FloRacing. Racing begins at 10 a.m. ET.
Provisional lineups for all of Saturday’s events are located on the Chili Bowl website and on the MyRacePass app.
Great NEWS! We have taken the green flag and have officially launched our Race Face Digital Kickstarter crowdfunding. To make your pledge click on the button below. Pledges start at $10.