(Menifee, CA, January 11, 2023) The next time somebody tells you dreams do not come true, we ask that you have them call Tommy Dunkel. Last Thanksgiving weekend he had a dream come true when he raced in the sprint car portion of the Turkey Night Grand Prix at the Ventura Raceway. Thursday night, Dunkel will realize another racing dream when he takes a green flag for his first-ever midget race in the 37th Annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A year ago, Dunkel had no reason to believe that he would be competing in this week’s race that is staged inside the SageNet Center, which is one of the largest clearspan buildings in the world. In fact, the plan was for him to just go watch the race in person. He had only seen the Chili Bowl while watching on the big screen from his home. A major reason to believe he would not be competing in Tulsa is the fact that he had never raced a midget before. However, the thought process gears shifted into action and the Southern California driver figured that if he was going, he might as well try to race. And he is going to do just that! He will be in the Jet Motorsports #14E Dunkel Farms/Inland Rigging/Osborn Speed and Machine/United Asset Sales/Southside Mowers/Boss Chassis/Esslinger for this week’s race.

“It was a few months back and I was talking with a few of my friends about just coming out to watch,” the friendly Dunkel said. “I decided if I was just coming out to watch, with all of the airfare and expense, let’s see if I can find a ride. That is when I was able to connect with Eric Fenton of Jet Motorsports in Tulsa. We made the call and he said he had a ride for me, so, here we are.”

“This will be my first race ever in a midget. I have about 70 – 80 laps in a midget just practicing. I went with Jimmy May to Ventura a couple of weeks back just hot lapping. This (Chili Bowl) will be my first time taking a green flag in a midget. Practice went good. I started driving it like a sprint car which is a no-no. I was quickly corrected by Jimmy. He got me headed in the right direction. By the end of the day, we were pretty close to race pace. Jimmy was pretty impressed and thought I got up to speed pretty quick.”

Perhaps his urge to race at the Chili Bowl increased after an impressive run in the sprint car portion of Turkey Night. On that chilly November night, he not only qualified for the feature, but he came from 22nd to finish 13th. Performing well in that prestigious race has boosted Dunkel’s confidence going into the Chili Bowl and he enters the event with his eyes wide open.

“It is a pretty big milestone for me,” the Menifee, California-based driver said last week. “It has had my nerves on edge the past couple weeks as you can imagine leading up to it. I am looking forward to learning and watching the fast guys. Get my feet wet in a midget. You never know where we will go from here. I figured what a great way to race a midget for the first time.”

Racing against many of the greatest dirt track drivers in the world as well as stars from many different disciplines of racing has not been lost on Dunkel. He has a very realistic look at the event in the “Sooner State.”

“I just want to get in some good laps,” he said. “I would like to go as far as possible. Obviously, the idea to make the show is #1. We will see. I obviously have very little experience in a midget, but I am a patient driver. Sometimes I tend to let the race come to me. If I have some good luck and the lord willing, we will go as far as we can on Saturday.”

Like the 370 other pre-entered drivers for the Chili Bowl, Dunkel got in a couple of practice sessions on the track on Sunday. The sessions were brief. Like about four laps each brief! There was a lot to learn, but not a lot of time was allotted for educating oneself on the track and its idiosyncrasies.

“Practice went well,” Dunkel said. “It was a pretty big eye-opener actually getting on the track. Seeing it and watching it on TV is one thing but rolling out there was a whole different animal. The car felt good. It was more of me just trying to get acquainted with driving a midget. We had two sessions. The first session was just trying to shake it down and get comfortable. You only get four laps and four laps go quick. I would say by lap four I was kind of finding my groove a little bit. That kind of gave me a good idea of what I needed to do for session two.”

“We went out for session two, and the car was pretty good. But the track was slick to a curb. Coming from sprint cars, it is one thing to bang the cushion with a big old right rear tire. Hitting it with this little bitty midget tire was a little bit uneasy for me. I cheated the cushion a little bit. If I can find the cushion sooner on race day, we are going to pick up some time. We have speed, it is just getting me a little more comfortable in the car and kind of finding my groove sooner. We are pretty dang close for a guy who has never driven a midget before.”

Once the Chili Bowl is over, Dunkel will continue with prep for the 2023 USAC West Coast Sprint Car Series. His first race in the series will be on February 25th on the dirt track at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield.

Dunkel would like to thank the following for making his racing efforts possible. Inland Rigging, Dunkel Farms, United Asset Sales, Osborne Speed & Machine, and Southside Mowers. If you or your company would like to join him for a full year of USAC Sprint Car competition in 2023, please give him a call or send an email to 951-901-5082 or

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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