Fans travel from far and wide to the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as each new year begins. Their destination is the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, one of the premier racing events for dirt track racers. The pre-race hype is always tremendous, as racers from several countries get set to do battle on the 1/5-mile clay bullring. For fans and racers alike, their expectations are always exceeded.
Anyone that is a fan of dirt track racing in the slightest, has already added the Chili Bowl Nationals to their “bucket list”. As if the incredible racing action weren’t enough, the off-track environment makes this race an event like no other. There are very few places where thousands of people with a common interest gather for a week of racing. Did we mention that all of this takes place in a single building.
What To See And Do:
The Chili Bowl Nationals never disappoints. During our trip, we took some notes of our observations. The following is a list of items that we wanted to share with potential Chili Bowl rookies to help make the most out of their experience inside the River Spirit Expo Center:
Buy Your Ticket Early. Do this as early as possible by calling the Chili Bowl box office prior to the event. Unless you don’t mind standing on a concrete floor for six straight days, you’re going to want a place to park yourself. You’ll also want to be guaranteed a place to watch the show without any hassle.
Book A Flight And Hotel In Advance. These become increasingly more expensive the closer to the event date it gets. We suggest flying in on Sunday, but it will cost you an extra night at the hotel. If you plan to fly into Tulsa on Monday, make sure you grab the earliest flight in so you can check-in and make it to the track by 4:00 p.m. for hot laps.
Call Your Credit Card Company. Call your credit card company before you leave and let them know you’re going to be in Tulsa for the week. Some card companies will automatically shut off access to your account if they suspect unusual activity in another state. The last thing you want to deal with on vacation is a lack of payment options.
Consider Upgrading. Once you get to the track, make it a top priority to visit the box office at the Expo Center and upgrade your tickets to a week-long pit-pass/ticket combination. This replaces your hard tickets with a bracelet that has your seat number printed on it. Life is easier the rest of the week when you’re not standing in lines or fumbling for tickets each day. Large monitors inside the pit area stream live video of the races and allow you to take a break from your seats without missing any of the racing action.
Buy A Program. There is always a section for autographs inside, as well as nice articles and photos. Besides a great souvenir, the event program comes with a set of coupons good for free copies of the race schedule. Redeem these each evening as you enter the building and you’ll have an explanation of the format and the heat-race lineups.
Buy Event Merchandise Early. Supply is always limited, and the first few days always offer greater selection. Each day the lines grow longer. This applies to driver merchandise sold at their trailers as well. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to snatch up some exclusive items only sold at the event.
Photo Opportunities. Autographs and photos with the drivers are much easier to get during preliminary days. The drivers have some free time on nights they don’t have a preliminary race. Saturday gets extremely hectic. Throughout the week, listen for PA announcements for autograph sessions. As with any event, try to be courteous and respectful of the drivers’ schedules. This is their workplace.
Take Your Vitamins. Pack daily vitamins rich in vitamin C. The goal is to boost your immune system to prevent any sickness from ingestion of methanol fumes, dust, and rubber over several days. Altered sleeping habits during the week can wear you down as well.
Get Some Air. Every few hours, exit the building or stand near an open door for some fresh air. Do this every day religiously. Set a timer on your phone if necessary. Your body will thank you.
Hydrate. Drink tons of water every day. If you drive to the Expo Center, leave a case in the trunk of the car. The water will stay nice and cool for you out there and will give you an excuse to go outside and grab some fresh air.
Rental Cars. If you elect to rent a car, try to get one with heated seats and navigation. Pay extra for the insurance (especially if you’re new to snow driving). Depending on the weather, you might want to bring an ice scraper with you just in case.
Layer Up. Wear layers of clothing each day that can be easily shed and replaced. Remember … it is very cold outside, but it is usually very nice inside. In fact, the lighting and climate inside the Expo Center are so nice, it is easy to lose track of time.
Face Cloths. Bring a backpack to the track and pack a few washcloths or wipes to clean your face. Some of the bathrooms only have jet dryers, which aren’t much help if you want to splash some water on your face every now and then.
Phone Chargers. Bring your phone charger or battery recharger packs to the track. This is especially true if you are planning to use the internet for updates or rides from the race track.
Eye Protection. Bring some protective eyewear. Although built with safety in mind, the safety fences can’t grab every dirt clod. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. The cheap plastic protective goggles work just fine, and you won’t miss sight of the racing action.
Get Your Popcorn. Give yourself at least 30 minutes before the Features to use the restroom, buy your food and drinks, and get back up to your seat. Otherwise, you’ll have a tough time not missing any action, especially on Saturday night!
Take Advantage Of A Freebie. On Wednesday, make sure to board the complimentary charter bus for a tour of the Zink Ranch. Sign-ups are available Monday and Tuesday at the box office. Wednesday morning you’ll be picked up just near the Golden Driller statue and taken on a half-day trip to a beautiful racing museum. While there, you’ll be treated to a free lunch as Emmett Hahn discusses the rich heritage of racing in Oklahoma. This trip is a must for any history buff.
Create your own Chili Bowl stories, buy the official event DVD at the track to have these everlasting memories of the event. Take tons of photographs. Try to focus on things that you don’t see at your home track. Focus on things that are unique to the Chili Bowl experience. Above all else, relax, have fun, and enjoy yourself.