TULSA, Okla. – The Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions goes into its ninth year with a field of 20 former VIROC winners, Owner Champion choices, and Chili Bowl Driver champions set for the 20 lap shootout.
Normally a $2,500 to win event for these select drivers, this year’s will bring an added bonus to the winner thanks to Doug and Mary Harris with HE&M SAW as well as Greg and Kim Stewart with Fast Lane Racing Apparel. In honor of Bryan Clauson, the winner will walk away with an amount to honor Clauson’s No. 63 with the winner earning $6,363.63.
Stewart, whose daughter Lauren was engaged to Clauson, said of the tribute to 63, “We talked about different ways to honor Bryan’s many successes on the track. Paying the winner of the VIROC $6,363.63 seemed like the thing to do. Bryan will always be our favorite Chili Bowl Champion.”
Speaking with Doug Harris on his help to bring the payout to $6,363.63, he said, “Bryan embodied the spirit of competitiveness and kindness that we at HE&M Saw believe in. We are proud to be part of honoring the 2014 Chili Bowl champion.”
Nevada’s Tanner Thorson is the defending champion of the VIROC. Earning his entry into the eight annual event via the National Midget Driver of the Year, his VIROC triumph gives him a permanent entry into the annual Tuesday shootout. Without the win, Thorson would have been in again as back-to-back NMDotY. In eight previous races, the Swindell name has ruled with Sammy taking four and Kevin one. The only other winners include Brad Loyet, Kyle Larson, and Tanner Thorson.
For the 2017 edition, the Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions will include:
No. 1 – Sammy Swindell (Germantown, Tenn.) Four wins in the VIROC, along with five wins in the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, it’s been two years since Sammy topped the VIROC and the wily veteran is looking to bounce back from a 2016 DNF.
No. 1R – Thomas Meseraull (San Jose, Cali.) Under the banner of Rusty Kunz, California’s Thomas Meseraull will make his debut in the VIROC. Meseraull is no stranger to success at the Chili Bowl with five A-Feature appearance to his name.
No. 1st – J.J. Yeley (Phoenix, Ariz.) Still hunting that White Rabbit, J.J. Yeley walked out of VIROC VIII with a 13th place finish. J.J.’s best finish came in 2005 when he finished runner-up to Sammy Swindell.
No. 05 – Brad Loyet (Sunset Hills, Mo.) The winner of VIROC II, Brad Loyet spent the latter half of the 2016 season running Sprint Cars and Midget across the Midwest with success in both. Recently a new father, Loyet advanced three spots in VIROC VIII to finish 16th.
No. 5 – Jerry Coons, Jr. (Tucson, Ariz.) Behind the wheel of the Wilke-Pak No. 5, Jerry Coons, Jr. has appeared in four previous VIROC events with a best finish of fifth in 2013. Coons currently has the record for most consecutive A-Feature starts with 13 and counting.
No. 6K – Dave Darland (Lincoln, Ind.) The “People’s Champ” is back in the Ralph Potter/Kruseman entry for the VIROC. Darland’ fourth shot at the VIROC, the Indiana native will spend the rest of his week driving for Brad and Brandon Gray.
No. 15 – Donny Schatz (Fargo, N.D.) While Donny may be a Chili Bowl Rookie, he will take a spot in the lineup on Clauson credentials.
No. 21 – Daryn Pittman (Owasso, Okla.) On the card with owner combination Pittman-Zarounian, the 2017 shot at a VIROC win will be the Oklahoma natives first attempt.
No. 21K – Cory Kruseman (Ventura, Cali.) Twice a Chili Bowl Champion, the VIROC has continued to elude the Californian. In last year’s edition, Cory was only able to muster a 14th place showing.
No. 22H – John Heydenreich (Bloomsburg, Penn.) The 1990 Chili Bowl Champion will make his third attempt at the VIROC in 2017. Already taking laps during the Shootout, John will be in the John Gibbons backed No. 22h.
No. 24 – Tracy Hines (Wilkinson, Ind.) Despite being somewhat retired from racing, Tracy Hines is far from retired. The 2005 Chili Bowl Champion has been in all eight previous VIROC events, with this past year’s resulting in a career best tying third place finish.
No. 47 – Danny Stratton (Riverside, Cali.) Making his first appearance in 2016 for car owner, Andy Bondio, the California shoe ended his madden voyage with a ninth place finish.
No. 47X – Tim McCreadie (Watertown, NY) In on his 2006 Chili Bowl triumph, Tim McCreadie will pilot the second Bondio entry. McCreadie’s 2016 VIROC run ended with a 10th place finish.
No. 67 – Tanner Thorson (Minden, Nev.) The defending champion of the VIROC is one of four drivers for Keith Kunz that qualifies for this year’s event. The 2015 and 2016 NMDotY, Thorson came from fourth to win in 2016.
No. 71 – Christopher Bell (Norman, Okla.) One of three Oklahoma drivers in the VIROC, Christopher Bell charged from 16th to fifth in last year’s VIROC. This year’s invitation is the fourth for Bell who is the choice of car owner, Keith Kunz.
No. 71G – Damion Gardner (Concord, Cali.) “The Demon” has been in all but one VIROC, and came close to winning in 2014. In the 2016 edition, Damion came across the line 15th in a Bob East machine.
No. 71K – Kyle Larson (Elk Grove, Cali.) In on his VIROC win in 2014, Kyle Larson is another shoe for car owner Keith Kunz in 2017. While Larson has been in five VIROC showdowns, Kyle has a streak of three top five runs going into 2017. Kyle finished second in last year’s race.
No. 76M – Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) Teaming with Frank Manafort and Joe Dooling, Oklahoma’s Brady Bacon is fresh off his second USAC National Championship and enters the VIROC on Joe Dooling’s credentials who won the Chili Bowl with the late Bryan Clauson.
No. 84X – Chad Boat (Phoenix, Ariz.) Racing again for Lawson/Boat, the son of Billy Boat has been seen action in the VIROC four times with a best finish of fourth in 2013.
No. 97 – Rico Abreu (Rutherford, Cali.) The defending champion of the Chili Bowl is the fourth Keith Kunz built ride in the VIROC. A 12th place finish in the 2016 VIROC, Rico has competed in the VIROC since 2015.
-Chili Bowl Press Release. Photo Credit: Dave Biro/Speed51.com photo