TULSA, Okla. — Daniel Robinson’s Thursday afternoon at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals was filled with far more activity than he expected, mostly because he became an overnight sensation.
Robinson, an Illinois fabricator who has spent plenty of time driving race cars as well through the years, turned into somewhat of a folk hero inside the River Spirit Expo Center after moving five-time Chili Bowl champion Sammy Swindell out of the way on the final lap of his A Qualifier Wednesday evening.
For good measure, Robinson gave Swindell a one-finger salute as he passed him coming to the checkered flag, causing the limited crowd in attendance to go into an uproar of celebration.
Swindell has always been viewed as the black hat-wearing villain of Chili Bowl week, mainly due to his sometimes-prickly demeanor, leaving Robinson as the proverbial good guy due to his surprise action.
Several fans came by to offer Robinson congratulations afterward, with one person even delivering a Twisted Tea as a celebratory gift. It was more than Robinson admitted he was prepared for.
“Man, I wasn’t even mad at him. I was just going to wave at him, to be honest with you,” Robinson said. “But then he cut down on me so bad going into (turn) three that I was a little pissed, so I tossed the finger when I went by there … and I never expected it would get the reaction it has, that’s for sure.”
Robinson is fielding the blue No. 57d that he usually drives outdoors for Chili Bowl rookie Aiden Purdue this year, while he takes the reins of a red-and-black Bullet Chassis carrying a No. 57k on the tail tank.
It’s a car that he received from veteran owner Bill Ecker, who Robinson drove for in 2012 and ’13.
“She’s a good piece,” said Robinson, who finished eighth in Wednesday’s preliminary feature. “I think we proved that pretty well.”
• Lebanon, Ind., native Spencer Bayston kept an impressive streak alive for RMS Racing with his fourth-place finish in Thursday night’s feature.
The Dave Estep-led team has put all four of its entries so far — wheeled by David Gravel, Thomas Meseraull, Brad Sweet and Bayston — inside the top five through four preliminary night A Mains.
RMS has a chance to go five-for-five in that category with Justin Grant Friday night. Grant is a three-time preliminary night winner, topping each of the Friday programs from 2017-’19.
• Reigning POWRi national midget rookie-of-the-year Trey Gropp quietly impressed with his eighth-place finish during Thursday’s main event. Gropp started fifth and raced among the leaders much of the night.
Gropp is racing a throwback paint scheme honoring team owner Steve Reynolds’ days in professional tractor pulling. The red-and-gold livery is among the sharpest in the River Spirit Expo Center this year.
The 17-year-old from Lincoln, Neb., was eighth in POWRi points last year, making 18 feature starts and earning three top-five and five top-10 finishes between Team Ripper and MSW Motorsports.
• If Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports driver Kaylee Bryson hopes to become the first female driver to make the Saturday A Main at the Chili Bowl, she’ll have to get her elbows up.
Bryson struggled to an 11th-place finish Thursday, lining up sixth for the 30-lap feature but never quite having the car underneath her that she needed to move forward.
She’ll start from the middle of a C Main Saturday night and have to transfer through both the C and the B Main if she wants to line her No. 71 JBL Audio Bullet-Toyota up for the grand finale.
• World of Outlaws Late Model Series director Casey Shuman began his week with practice Monday at the Chili Bowl, then flew to Florida for the season-opening WoO LMS race at Volusia Speedway Park.
He’ll return to the Sooner State Friday night to try and lock his No. 32 Dunlap Performance midget into the Chili Bowl field, making for a hectic week filled with an accumulation of frequent-flyer miles.
Shuman joins Tim McCreadie, who will return Saturday for the alphabet soup program, among those flying from Volusia back to Tulsa for Lucas Oil Championship Night.
• A relatively-tame fourth night of action only saw the World Wide Technology Raceway Flip Count rise to 34, with Matt Linder in the first B Main being the last of the Thursday incidents.
As with the rest of the week so far, all drivers walked away uninjured.