Chili Bowl Races Start Up Despite Pandemic

Jan 11, 2021

Races for the 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals start tonight at the River Spirit Expo Center at Expo Square.

The midget car event attracts racers and thousands of fans from across the U.S., but this year, it’s being held amid a global pandemic in which thousands of Oklahomans are falling ill and hundreds are dying every week.

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith said founder Emmett Hahn has committed to holding the event as safely as possible.

"Attendees at the Chili Bowl will be 25% of capacity. That’s 25% of who normally goes in for this event, and strict COVID protocols will be followed at all the events," Keith said.

The event is usually set up to accommodate 15,000 fans. Masks will be required at all times, except for drivers who have their helmets on for competition or when people are eating or drinking. People will be screened for symptoms before entering.

"The events at Expo Square, like the Chili Bowl, are helping to keep Tulsa’s economy alive and provide a lifeline to the local small businesses that surround it," Keith said.

The Tulsa Regional Chamber estimates the Chili Bowl has a $30 million impact on the city’s economy.

Defending champ Kyle Larson, three-time winner Christopher Bell and two-time champ Rico Abreu are all racing on the quarter-mile clay oval this year.