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Tyler Thomas

To be honest things hadn’t really been going our way heading into Chili Bowl. We went to DuQuoin right before Chili Bowl and we really had a great car. I was able to drive really hard gain a lot of passing points through the night. We’ve always raced really well there in that past but we’ve always struggled in the feature either due to circumstances or me beating myself. We had a front row spot in the feature and I spun out on the first lap all on my own after making another rookie mistake. Our car was so good we were able to drive back through the field and get to 3rd with 40 laps in. Man, at that point I got really impatient. Joey Saldana and Bryan Clauson were racing really hard together and they left a gap that I tried to take advantage of. I ended up taking us both out. It was mainly a mistake on my part, somewhat of a racing deal but I definitely could have been a little more patient. I wasn’t really sure how many laps were left or if I was going to get another chance to win a race and as a result I wasn’t as patient as I should have been. It cost Joey and I a great shot at a win.

they left a gap that I tried to take advantage of and I ended up taking us both out.

Just a couple of weeks later I found myself in New Zealand racing for BSL Racing and Esslinger. We were there to run 4 Western Springs shows and Bay Park. The first night was Boxing Night and we started 8th in the feature. We got to around 4th or 5th when a couple of guys got together and we were got caught up. It tore up the car pretty badly but we got it fixed up for Monday night which was the 30 Lap Derby in Bay Park.

From the moment we unloaded we were off. We just never were the same. I could tell something was wrong, that we had missed something from the crash the first night. We went through the car after the race and found a couple of little problems that probably caused us to struggle.

Tyler Thomas and Zach Daum
Tyler Thomas and Zach Daum face off in a one-on-one challenge race at the 2016 Chili Bowl | Photo: Jeffrey Turford

On the night of the 50 lapper we qualified 6th and ran 5th in the dash and I kind of stayed pretty patient most of the race and didn’t really do anything crazy. I was trying to make sure we were there at the end. We ended up getting to 3rd on lap 37 when we lost the LR wheel out of nowhere halfway down the straightaway. The car dug in and I took a ride. I was left pretty banged up with 2 black eyes

Needless to say between the getting in the wreck with Joey and 2 black eyes I really wasn’t riding a wave of momentum as I headed to Tulsa to try and qualify for my first Chili Bowl A Main.

I’ve never made The Chili Bowl A Main in 4 tries but I’ve been painfully close. My first year there I made The C Main and was involved in a first lap crash.

Right now my biggest enemy is myself.

The following year I found myself transferring from The C to The B and I was right there for the final transfer spot to the A coming down the final straightaway but we came up just short. To be honest we were ecstatic to finish that well. The C Mains and B Mains at Chili Bowl are probably tougher fields than we get all year running midgets.

Last year we had higher expectations to put it in the show on Saturday. We had a really good spot in The B Main. We started 12th and had gotten past Tim McCreadie for a transfer spot with about 5 laps to go. He’d shown me a nose and had actually tried to slide me and the very next lap was 2 to go. I went to the top, biked up and stalled the motor. It hurt quite a bit and I was pretty mad at myself. I feel like I make those mistakes a lot and just beat myself. Right now my biggest enemy is myself.

I knew after warm-ups that things might be different this year. The car felt like it was on a string. I could go anywhere I wanted and I’d also drawn a high pill so I knew I was going to have a chance for passing points in my heat. The last 2 years at Chili Bowl I’ve started pole of my heat race and I really didn’t have the opportunity to grab a lot of points.

I knew I had the car to come from the back of the heat it was was just a matter of me putting myself in the right spots and keeping my nose clean. Keeping your nose clean in the main thing at this race. If you do that and pass a couple of cars and finish top 3 to top 5 normally you’ll be in the show.

I was able to get a good start in my heat race and get through there quick. Rico had already checked out but we’d gone from an original start of 8th to run 2nd. I was able to get 4 or 5 cars in the first two laps. I could work the bottom or the top and use up any part of the track I needed to use to get around guys.

The top point earners are inverted by 6 for qualifiers at The Chili Bowl. Once again you get passing points for coming through the field. Heading into the qualifiers I was 4th in points so I had to start 6th.

Keeping your nose clean in the main thing at this race. If you do that and pass a couple of cars and finish top 3 to top 5 normally you’ll be in the show.

I was able to get to 4th on the first lap. We actually weren’t as good in the qualifier. We were a little on the free side because they had just re-worked the track and we didn’t know how tight we could get away with having the car. We were a little conservative but as the race went on I played with the shocks a bit and we had a few yellows to let me think about what I needed to do differently. I knew if I could get to 2nd that a front row starting spot in the feature would be pretty likely. I got the car dialed in for the last 5 laps and got to 2nd. T-Mez was pretty stout leading when I got to 2nd but we were able to run him down but I wasn’t going to take any risks and finished 2nd.

I shared the front row of our preliminary feature with Austin Brown and was able to get the jump when the dropped the green flag for our feature. The track prep crew had re-worked the track so the bottom was very good. I ran the bottom early before jumping up top on around the 3rd or 4th lap.

Tyler Thomas smiling
Tyler Thomas qualified for his first every Chili Bowl in 2016 | photo: Jeffrey Turford

Normally at The Chili Bowl the track ends up on the top. I could see a cushion building pretty nicely. The track had not been very slimy during our pace laps so I knew that it wouldn’t take very long before the top would come in. As a result I’d planned on starting on the bottom and then going up top and that’s how it played out.

I had made up in my mind that if anyone showed me a nose I would go back to the bottom. Actually, Rico did show me a nose at one point so I went down there for a lap. I think when I did that Rico ended up sliding up to the top and I killed his momentum for a little bit.

I didn’t feel like I was going to be able to finish the race on the top and I felt a BIG mistake coming.

I went back up to the top and just kind of rode around there for a while. To be honest we were probably too good, too early in the feature. We were setting a really good pace up until the first yellow.

Unfortunately that first yellow gave a Rico a really good opportunity to pass me and he did. I really didn’t put up much of a fight. I didn’t feel like I needed to do anything crazy there and that if I could just stay with him, see what he was doing differently and keep his pace I figured I’d be in pretty good shape.

The track has really built itself up on the top as the race went on and I was starting to get pretty tight. I didn’t feel like I was going to be able to finish the race on the top and I felt a BIG mistake coming. I’d also seen Parker Price-Miller show me a nose on the bottom so I switched my line and ran the bottom for the final laps.

I could see Rico was getting tight as well but when I jumped down to the bottom I actually missed my line a couple of times and I actually thought about just going to the top and trying to ride out the rest of the race.

I decided against the top and started really working the bottom and playing with my shocks. I actually reeled in Rico for the lead. As we came by the 2 laps to go signal I was next to Rico. I really wasn’t attacking Rico at that point. My mindset was more to try and hold my position because if Parker passed me that was going to put a whole lot more pressure on me. I felt if I just hit my marks Rico would get the win but more importantly, in the bigger picture I was going to make my first Chili Bowl A Main.

During the final 2 laps Rico started getting too tight and he hopped down to the bottom and that pretty much sealed the win for him. I could hear a car buzzing the top and assumed it was T-Mez like normal and I knew Parker was behind me and wasn’t going to leave the bottom. I didn’t expect Parker to do anything crazy but I knew T-Mez might try to pull something out to get to a transfer spot so I just covered the last couple of laps and finished 2nd.

The whole race had gone pretty smoothly for me. We didn’t really hit lapped traffic and I had a bottom down there just to make things a little more safe.

It took me a couple of minutes to realize what I’d accomplished.

It took me a couple of minutes to realize what I’d accomplished. Even when I’d parked in the infield it hadn’t really sunk in yet. I was just full of excitement really. I wanted to just break down and cry, I didn’t actually cry but that’s how it felt. I saw my family and my team come down while Scotty Cook was interviewing me. After that I don’t even remember seeing Scotty. It was one of the coolest nights of my whole life to achieve that dream and goal and then to see the look on my parents face and my whole team’s faces. The smiles never left our faces all night. It was just really cool.

As much as it meant a lot to me I know it meant a lot to my father Brian. He’s definitely one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known. He owns a business in addition to pretty much being my crew chief and truck driver. Every night we’re not racing it’s me and him in the shop working on the cars and getting ready for the next race. To make The Chili Bowl A Main and not have a big team or a well-known crew chief or anything like that is the most special thing to us.

We’ve worked so hard since we started. We went through a lot of struggles with the cars we were running and the equipment we had and we’ve gotten to a point now where we our equipment is as nice as anybody’s. We’ve learned what to do to make me comfortable in terms of setup. We’ve learned a lot about shocks through Advanced Racing Suspensions and Bobby Barth. It’s taken 4 years to get to the point where we thought we had a shot to put it in feature at Chili Bowl and we finally did it.

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