TULSA, Okla. – For Christopher Bell, walking into the Tulsa Expo Center to start the week off at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals was old hat, with no nerves whatsoever chasing him into the building.
After all, he comes into the 32nd running of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s crown jewel event as its defending champion.
Bell, who is seeking his fourth-career preliminary night victory and third in a row on Thursday, said during Monday’s pre-event press conference that he’s relaxed and ready to chase his second Golden Driller trophy, driving again for the powerhouse Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports team.
“For me, coming back here (to Tulsa) as the champion is a whole lot less stressful,” said Bell. “It’s a weight gone off my shoulders and I’m probably calmer now than I was for most of last year’s Chili Bowl, honestly.”
“I’m ready to go chase another one, now. This event is special to me in so many ways … and to win another one would be a second dream come true.”
Bell cited the significance of the Chili Bowl in the eyes of a hometown driver as something that sits very near to his heart.
“As a kid, growing up in Oklahoma racing micro sprints around Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the Chili Bowl was the biggest racing event of the year,” he recalled. “I remember as a little kid coming up to Tony (Stewart) and asking for his autograph. Just to come up here and remember seeing those memories of seeing guys like Tony and Kasey Kahne and all the NASCAR stars that would come to Tulsa … my home state. It was all really special.”
“Then, to win last year and to come back this year with no pressure on myself … the Chili Bowl has been my No. 1 goal for a long, long time and really for my whole life as a race car driver. It’s the race, to me. Now that I’ve checked off that box, I get to go back to enjoying being here, I guess.”
In four prior (and consecutive) Saturday night A-Main appearances, Bell has two podium finishes, including his win last year.
That breakthrough moment in Tulsa was part of a standout and career season for Bell, one that included five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins, the Truck Series title, a NASCAR XFINITY Series win, an ARCA Racing Series win, 10 national midget wins across all sanctions, two Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions wins and a World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series victory at Eldora Speedway during the Knight Before the Kings Royal.
If all that weren’t enough, Bell capped 2017 off with a victory in the Tulsa Shootout, winning the 55-lap Winged Outlaw A-Feature to join the late Bryan Clauson as one of only two drivers in history to win at both the Shootout and the Chili Bowl.
It’s a year that Bell has repeatedly stressed “doesn’t happen every day,” but one that he’s also challenging himself to try and replicate as his career trajectory climbs closer and closer to the pinnacle of stock car racing.
“It’s never easy, but as a racer, you’re always trying to move forward,” Bell told Race Chaser Online in December during NASCAR Champion’s Week. “Man, I don’t know how you can even top a season like we’ve had … but we’re sure going to try.”
Bell’s No. 71W Toyota-powered midget is carrying sponsorship from iRacing.com this week, on the heels of the announcement that the eSports racing service will add the Tulsa Expo Raceway to its lineup of tracks later this year.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 24-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: [email protected]
Email Race Chaser Online: [email protected]
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews