The 37th annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals wasn’t everything Santino Ferrucci hoped it would be, but there was still something to be proud of at the end of the week’s festival of racing Saturday night.
Ferrucci, who will drive the famed No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet for the upcoming season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, opted to knock off some offseason rust by kicking up some dust at the quarter-mile indoor dirt track at the Tulsa Expo Center in Oklahoma.
Driving the No. 16 Dave Mac-Dalby Motorsports Toyota for what Ferrucci calls “The Indianapolis 500 of dirt racing,” he rolled off fifth and finished fourth in Heat 9 to start his preliminary night Friday. He followed that with a seventh-place outing in Qualifier 2, rising from ninth. However, the lack of passing points left him starting fifth in B-Main 2, where he pushed into a transfer spot until a “slide job” passing attempt stalled his run and he faded to 10th and missed out on progressing in the prelim A-Main.
The outing left the Connecticut native starting fifth in G-Main 1 of Saturday's “alphabet soup”. Despite his best efforts, he ended up sixth and fell one spot shy of the transfer position.
“It went really well,” said Ferrucci, 24. “I think we should have definitely made the A-Main on our prelim night. I was running in the transfer spot in the B; I'm just learning and getting better every time. I never threw a slider and I threw it, the car straight passed everything and went into the fence. So, a learning experience on that one, to say the least. But we did battle back and get back through some of the cars in the B, for sure. We should have made the A. We were more than capable and fast enough to be there.”
Although he never had a chance to battle for the coveted Golden Driller trophy, Ferrucci did reset his career-best achievement in the event, with his previous being 10th in the G-Main back in 2021. This year marked his fourth appearance in the event.
Last year’s edition for Ferrucci ended before it began, flipping at the start of hot laps and being sidelined the remainder of the week due to a concussion. With that, it left him virtually not running a midget car “for almost two years,” so it was encouraging how quickly he appeared to adapt in his first running since the incident.
“You could definitely tell that, especially in my qualifier, when I started to get up there,” he said. “It was tough, tough for me to get going. Once I got a rhythm, I started to really run down people. Same in the heat, man. I was stuck running behind someone that I needed to pass, and I just went up top and got around them and shut them down coming into (Turn) 3. We made some really good moves. It's just a rhythm thing.
“For me, the more laps that I I'm running consistently, the better I'm getting. It's very hard for me to still just jump in every race and just be on the limit. No matter which lane I'm in, it takes me a lap or two to really get going and get comfortable.”
Ferrucci is already set to return to the Chili Bowl in 2024, again with Dave Mac & Co.
Now, though, the focus turns toward the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. This year marks Ferrucci’s return as a full-time driver in North America’s premier open-wheel championship, having last run the entire schedule in 2020. He spent the previous two years making the most of selected opportunities, collecting six top-10 finishes in eight starts for three different teams (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Juncos Hollinger Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing).
When taking a moment to look at next year’s Chili Bowl, Ferrucci teased a possible return to a midget at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Dirt Track for the Driven2SaveLives BC39 on Sept. 27-30 as part of the preparation.
“I’m going to try and see if there's any prep that I can do to just be better next year,” he said. “In that sense, whether it's running the BC39 at the end of the INDYCAR season just to get some laps. It's one of those things also, the more laps that I have, the safer it is for me, too, because I have a better understanding of what I'm doing.
“The track (at IMS) is really similar to the Chili Bowl. Obviously, there's not the same grid number, so the top guys are a lot more dense in there, as well. So, it's a very difficult event to tackle. I just think that since it's after the season for me and the two tracks are super comparable that it might be helpful for you to gain some more laps before the Chili Bowl again.”