NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers Conor Daly, Santino Ferrucci and James Davison had relatively no dirt-track experience, but they nonetheless took on the challenge of competing in the prestigious Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, an indoor midget race which last week drew 360 drivers, including NASCAR star Kyle Larson, who won the weeklong event.
The bravery of the INDYCAR SERIES drivers drew a shoutout tweet from four-time NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who started his career on dirt tracks.
Daly (pictured above) finished the highest among the three INDYCAR SERIES drivers, eliminated in the H Main of Saturday's stepladder finals. Ferrucci was stopped in the K Main, Davison in M Main.
Ferrucci said if he wasn't going to advance to the next round he was going to enjoy himself. So, he took his car to the top lane and did the best he could.
“I hate sitting in line because I want to race and everyone was sitting on the bottom,” he said. “I was trying to make the top groove work.
“I really liked running the top groove in INDYCAR with my oval experience and I was thinking to myself, ‘Well, if everyone is checking up on the bottom maybe I just get everything correct and I get lucky with the car placement and I can make the top groove work.’ I was having fun wheeling it up there.”
Ferrucci’s Chili Bowl ended with a seventh-place finish in that race. He was disappointed, for sure, but it was clear he enjoyed the weeklong experience.
“The other side of the coin is to have fun, and it was no fun to me just hanging on the bottom and just riding the line,” he said. “I wanted to get up top, get it sideways, get in the throttle and feel it out.”
Ferrucci, who had a breakout 2019 INDYCAR SERIES season driving Dale Coyne Racing's No. 19 Honda, vowed to return to the event which attracted drivers from 40 states and six countries.
“I had a blast,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to doing this next year and trying to improve on what we did this year.”
Davison, a five-time Indianapolis 500 starter, finished ninth in his M Main race. He also wants to return next year to midget racing’s grandest event of the year.
“I’ve watched many races and I can see what you need to do, but to actually do it yourself is the challenging part,” he said. “It’s a lot harder to do than it looks like from the outside.
“There’s no substitute for experience, right? Experience brings confidence to start going faster and slide (the car) more. I’m not quite there yet.”
Daly, who will drive Ed Carpenter Racing's No. 20 Chevrolet on the road and street circuits while competing in the Indianapolis 500 in a third team entry, said the lack of track time at the Chili Bowl hurts those with dirt experience.
“It’s tough because you sit around all day just to potentially race for 10 minutes,” he said. “We did like four laps of racing. That’s a shame. There were lots of yellows.”
All three drivers competed with help from David Byrd, whose inspiration for supporting talented open-wheel drivers comes from his father, Jonathan, who helped Rich Vogler and Stan Fox compete in Indianapolis 500s. David Byrd also helped Bryan Clauson compete in the 500 in 2015 and ’16.
Ferrucci said the experience could lead him to seek a ride in the Driven2SaveLives BC39 powered by NOS Energy Drink, the dirt race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 1-2.
“(This) was a cool experience and if I had done some testing (it) could have been really good,” he said.
Their combined efforts were celebrated by those attending the sellout at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES season will stage its first open test of the year Feb. 11-12 at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. The first of 17 races is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Florida March 13-15.