Kaylee Bryson makes Chili Bowl history as first woman in main event

‘Badass car’ gets Taylor Thorson all the way to victory lane

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Kaylee Bryson was the first woman to race in the A-Main Chili Bowl event.
Kaylee Bryson was the first woman to race in the A-Main Chili Bowl event.
Screenshot: Kaylee Bryson/Twitter

And here I thought bowl season was over.

Saturday was the chili bowl in Tulsa, Okla., a thing that I never knew existed despite being interested in car racing all my life. I found out it was happening because there were some NASCAR drivers involved, but for most of the day, I did have an idea that there was a charity chili event. We’re still a month from Daytona, and who doesn’t like chili?

Turns out I’m an idiot, and it’s an indoor car race… and the ring of dirt makes it look like a chili bowl? No. Wikipedia says it’s “named after a local company who sponsored the first event.” Right, it’s car racing.

Tony Stewart won it twice. So did someone named Billy Boat. Also, there doesn’t appear to be a real connection to chili anymore besides the presence of driver Brady Bacon, who had a big flipping crash (not his worst, apparently) in the final laps of Saturday’s main event. The race is now sponsored by a motor oil and a tire company, which presumably makes more sense, and the facility itself is now known as the Chili Bowl. Officially, it’s the Sagenet Center, whatever.

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Well, Saturday turned out to be historic, because for the first time, a woman was in the A-main race for the Golden Driller.

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Kaylee Bryson raced her way in, and finished 18th, on the lead lap, in a field that included NASCAR Cup winner and two-time defending Chili Bowl champion Kyle Larson. And now, Tanner Thorson can tell everyone that he beat NASCAR’s best – and there seems to be a good chance that he’s a colorful storyteller, so that’s cool.

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Thorson, in fact, already has talked about beating Larson, saying before last year’s Chili Bowl, “I was one of the handful of guys who beat Larson when he ran midget this year and [NASCAR driver and Saturday’s runner-up Christopher] Bell, too. I know I can, and I’m planning on it. We just have to be prepared for anything.”

It was a year later than he planned, but still a fantastic comeback from a fiery California highway crash in 2019, driving back from a race in Las Vegas, that left Thorson hospitalized.

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Not a bad night to have learned about the Chili Bowl.

Oh, there’s the money

There’s something kind of unsettling, even in non-lockout times, about Major League Baseball’s international signing period, when prospects from other countries get signing bonuses rising into the millions. Good for them getting paid, for sure, but it’s also a reminder of how broken the system is when bonuses are splashed around like that and minor leaguers don’t get a living wage when they’re actually playing.

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These kids aren’t subject to the draft, and in fact wouldn’t even be eligible for it if they were Americans because they’re mostly 16 and 17 years old. They’re also a long way from being part of the MLBPA, whose members aren’t getting paid anything now because of the lockout. That puts just a bit sharper focus on baseball teams being the businesses that they are, and that they’re in a standoff with their union employees but will continue to operate the same way, exactly as they see fit, when not subject to collective bargaining.

If they were, perhaps they’d rebalance their efforts from being so heavy on money to recruit talent to spending on the development of that talent. Because it’s not just a reminder that baseball is a business, but that baseball’s business model is short-sighted, focusing on immediate gain of either talent or profit over building for the long term.