Racing Against the Best: Arizonans in the 2020 Chili Bowl Nationals

Last updated Jan. 13, 2020

More than 350 of the greatest racers in the world head to Tulsa, OK to battle for a week around the quarter-mile dirt oval, built every winter in the Spirit Expo Center. Drivers from NASCAR, IndyCar, World of Outlaws, and even off-road and drag-strip backgrounds head to the Chili Bowl Nationals and hop into midget race cars to fight to be one of just 24 drivers to make the main race out of the 350+ entries.

The event takes an entire week to put together. From Monday through Friday, about 70 different drivers per day qualify in preliminary races to be placed in Saturday’s show, racing in heat races, dashes semi’s, and an A-Feature. Only four drivers qualify for Saturday’s big race per night, the rest have to race through “alphabet soup.” From the J-Main, to the I-Main, to the H-Main, the goal is to work up from the main you qualified in all the way to the Saturday A-Main. The main show on Saturday features 24 of the best race car drivers in the world in a 55-lap shootout for one of the most prestigious trophies in motorsports, the Golden Driller. Imagine 350 of the world’s best basketball or football players battling one-on-one over the span of a week, and only one can be the champion.

This annual thriller will take place from Jan. 13 to Jan. 18. With the enormous line-up for the Chili Bowl, here is the list of the Arizona drivers entered in the 34th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.

 

2G – J.J. Yeley

Charlotte, NC          A-Main Appearances: 8          Heat Wins: 9     Twitter

The name Yeley is written all over Chili Bowl History. Son of Arizona legend, ‘Cactus’ Jack Yeley, longtime NASCAR driver, J.J. Yeley, has done all but win the Chili Bowl Nationals. The USAC Triple Crown Champion now resides in North Carolina focusing on his NASCAR efforts but is originally from Phoenix. Last year brought a controversial event for Yeley. After performing well in his heat race, he didn’t stop for a fuel check, a new rule established just before the event, and was forced to start last in the prelim mains where he wrecked, placing the 8-time A-Main starter in the last main of over 350 cars on Saturday. He was forced to start in the O-Main on Saturday and advanced to the N, M, and L-Mains. A first-lap spin in the L didn’t help, but he drove up to a transfer spot until a flip ended his eventful 2019 Chili Bowl. Yeley has made eight Saturday A-Mains since a 9th place finish in 1999 but the feature has eluded him since his 2015 performance. Yeley nearly won it all in 2007, finishing runner-up to former NASCAR teammate, Tony Stewart, but still credits three top-fives in the Saturday A-Feature. Yeley will run for Glenn Styres Racing in a car assembled by father, Jack, and hits the track to qualify on Wednesday.

 

17T – Stevie Sussex

Laveen, AZ          A-Main Appearances: 0          Heat Wins: 1     Twitter

Stevie Sussex, driving for Dave Thurston, is on the list of prelim heat race winners for the Chili Bowl taking a win back in 2013. Sussex has raced around the nation and raced full-time in the USAC Southwest Series in 2019. He finished third in the points but held lead his vehicle to win the owner’s championship. The Laveen driver had a rough 2019 Chili Bowl getting caught up in an incident in the I Feature. Sussex will hit the track to qualify on Wednesday.

 

20S – Shon Deskins

Waddell, AZ          A-Main Appearances: 0          Heat Wins: 2

Primarily a sprint car driver, Deskins has added midget racing to his schedule more often over the past few years and is entering his eighteenth straight Chili Bowl. Deskins has mostly been racing around New Mexico, winning the New Mexico sprint car championship with the NMMRA in 2017. Deskins has two Preliminary Night Heat Race wins since 2013 and qualified for his preliminary night A-Main in 2005 and last year in 2019.  Deskins finished last year in the D Feature and has his qualifying day set for Monday.

 

25 – Jerry Coons Jr.

Tucson, AZ          A-Main Appearances: 18          Heat Wins: 10          Prelim Feature Wins: 3     Twitter

One of the most decorated opponents in the Chili Bowl Nationals, Jerry Coons Jr. has made the top feature a whopping 18 times, finishing fourth in the big race on three different occasions, and is fourth all-time in heat race wins since his first appearance in 1994. One of the most talented and versatile dirt racers in the world, Coons has spent most of 2019 racing the USAC Midget Series finishing seventh in points. Along with J.J. Yeley, Coons is a prestigious USAC Triple Crown Champion, having won championships in the USAC Silver Crown, midget, and sprint car series. Following a DNF in his prelim night A-Main, Coons got stuck in the Saturday C-Main and missed the A-Main for the second straight year. Coons will hit the track on Thursday for qualifying and will once again drive for Petry Motorsports.

Listen to his thoughts on the Chili Bowl and his illustrious career on The Inside Lane.

 

32D – Casey Shuman

Rattlesnake Bend, AZ          A-Main Appearances: 5          Heat Wins: 4     Twitter

The Shuman family is synonymous with dirt racing around the nation. Son of ‘The Flying Shu,’ Ron Shuman, Casey hails out of the tiny town of Rattlesnake Bend, a place where if you blink, you’ll drive right through it. Shuman became the director of the World of Outlaws Late Model Series in 2019 and is running for Mike & Brian Dunlap in this year’s Chili Bowl. Shuman ripped out another heat win in 2019 and made his preliminary night A-Main. Shuman came just shy of his sixth Saturday A-Main appearance since 2005 last year with a DNF in last year’s B-Main. Shuman will hit the track on Thursday for qualifying. His best A Feature finish is 11th back in 2009.

Go onboard with Casey from the 2016 Chili Bowl below.

 

40 – Eric Wilkins

El Mirage, AZ                     A-Main Appearances: 0          Heat Wins: 0

The Wiz Kid, Eric Wilkins made his triumphant return to racing in 2019. Wilkins hopped into the regional ASCS Winged Sprint Car series in Arizona racing for former Chili Bowl racer, Bobby Ream Jr., and picked up two A-Main wins. Now, he makes his return to a midget in the Chili Bowl Nationals, making his first appearance in the race since 2005, where he beat names like Steve Kinser, Justin Allgaier, and Kasey Kahne, coming just a few spots shy of being one of the 24 drivers in the Saturday Night A-Main. Wilkins will drive for Ashley & Laura Corey in the 2020 edition of the Chili Bowl Nationals, looking to once again throw his name in the middle of some of the best drivers in the world Wilkins will hit the track to qualify on Wednesday.

 

55X – Alex Bowman

Mt. Ulla, NC          A-Main Appearances: 0          Heat Wins: 1     Twitter

Tucson native, Alex Bowman, is hopping back into his self-owned car in the 2020 Chili Bowl. NASCAR’s successor to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports won his first Cup Series race in June at Chicagoland Speedway and is back for a second straight Chili Bowl appearance. This is his fifth appearance, winning a heat in 2016. Bowman finished in the Saturday Night C Feature last year, tying his best career finish. Before his move to North Carolina to pursue NASCAR, Bowman was a USAC National Focus Midget champion in 2008 and the USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year in 2009. Tuesday is the qualifying day for the 26-year old.

 

Over 350 of the world’s greatest racers, only 24 spots in the A-Feature, and only one champion. Racing action from every day can be watched live on RacinBoys, and the C, B, and A-Mains on Saturday night will be live on MAVTV.

Do you have a prediction for this year’s Chili Bowl Champion? Join the conversation using @Sports360AZ and @devonhenry77.