TULSA, Okla. — Part-time NASCAR driver and public relations ace Ryan Ellis will return to the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in January with the support of Kansasland Tire & Service Centers.
Ellis will move from Michael Koontz’s operation to the No. 117 midget fielded by veteran car owner Randy Washburn. The entry was driven by Jack Dover during this year’s Chili Bowl.
The Ashburn, Va., native told Sprint Car & Midget that Kansasland was key in making his Chili Bowl return possible. The event will mark Ellis’ third Chili Bowl attempt.
“It’s pretty cool when the sponsor is pushing to do an event,” explained Ellis. “Almost every time, it’s about a driver begging a sponsor to go and do something, but they took charge on this. They found me a new car with Randy Washburn — who I’ve talked to on the phone a few times, but I haven’t actually met him yet — and we’re just going to see what kind of fun we can have.”
Considering the 35th Chili Bowl will mark Ellis’ fourth midget start ever, he’s keeping his expectations realistic — and reminded those paying attention to his effort to do the same.
“I don’t know anything about dirt racing, whether the Washburn operation is a big team, small team, anything like that … but Kansasland definitely wanted to work with him,” Ellis noted. “I’ve only worked with Michael Koontz before, so the transition over there should be fun and exciting.
“I just want to go out there, run well, and to pick up a few more mains than I did last year would be nice,” he added. “I make sure people know that, even when they’re sponsoring me, that this is not a performance thing. I would have better luck boat racing or airplane racing, I think, or literally (playing) softball than at the Chili Bowl. But it’s a fun experience and that’s why we keep coming back.”
For Ellis, the rewarding part of participating in the Super Bowl of Midget Racing is the skillset it has allowed him to learn and the additional line on his résumé that allows him to consider himself a “more diverse” driver.
“I take a lot of pride … more than anything, I think, in my life besides making it to the top levels of NASCAR, in being a multifaceted driver and being able to go out there and race just about anything,” Ellis noted. “I’ve won IMSA races. I’ve been competitive at the NASCAR level, even though that has been equipment dependent most of the time, but I’ve won on road courses. I’ve won on ovals. And now I want to go transition over there (to dirt racing) and see what I’m capable of.
“I’d honestly love to go try some stuff like Stadium Super Trucks and rallycross. At this point in my life, I realize it’s not something I’m probably going to make a career out of because there are so many different variables out there, but I want to go out there and just have as much fun as possible.”
Ellis’ Chili Bowl passion is also driven by family, something else that keeps him coming back every year he’s able to do so.
“The Chili Bowl was an event that, growing up, my grandpa would send me shirts (from) every single year for Christmas or my birthday. Somewhere around there, I’d usually get a Chili Bowl shirt and I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” Ellis recalled. “My grandfather passed away. He was my step-grandfather and I kind of race at the Chili Bowl in honor of him. My blood grandfather lost his life in 1958 in a sprint car crash. So to me, racing in Tulsa kind of brings my family history all together.
“It’s just so much fun. It’s so laid back and everybody’s just there having a blast. It’s so different than the environment you get at a NASCAR race,” Ellis continued. “It just brings people back to the reason they fell in love with racing, I feel like, and I’m looking forward to feeling that again in January.”
The 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals is set for Jan. 11-16 inside the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Okla.