TULSA, Okla. — While Alex Bright had experienced the emotions of locking into the Saturday A Main for the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in the past, his crew chief Jerome Rodela and car owner Tom Malloy had not.
That all changed Wednesday during Circle City Raceway Qualifying Night at the 35th edition of the Super Bowl of Midget Racing, when Bright finished second to Rico Abreu to give Rodela and Malloy a spot in the big dance.
Bright started outside the front row and held serve there for more than two-thirds of the race, until a late caution with seven to go bunched the field up and gave two-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion Brad Sweet a fighting chance.
Sweet pitched a slide job into turn three on the lap-24 restart, wresting control of the second and final lock-in position from Bright for a brief moment. However, Bright was not to be denied.
The Pennsylvania ace returned the favor the next time around, retaking the spot and finishing second in one of the few races where being the bridesmaid is good enough.
“Just to come here and lock into the show is awesome,” Bright said after clinching his third Chili Bowl A Main start. “This (car) was good tonight. We weren’t good enough to beat Rico, but to be able to hold on and keep Sweet behind me … that’s a big deal and I think a statement for what our team can do.
“These guys have been good here before; I’m really glad to get them into Saturday and I think we have a shot,” Bright added. “This is by far one of the best cars, if not the best car, that I’ve ever had here.”
While Bright “didn’t even realize” that Malloy and Rodela had never lined up for the grand finale at the Super Bowl of Midget Racing, Rodela — the longtime Malloy team manager — was well aware of what was on the line.
He didn’t admit any nerves in the closing laps, but a visible sense of relief was evident across his face after the checkered flag.
“This is cool. I’ve been working at this for so long, and to finally start seeing good results … it puts wind in your sails a little bit, really,” said Rodela. “This is a great feeling and we’re going to get after it pretty good on Saturday, I think. Bright is a hell of a race car driver.”
Bright backed up Rodela’s statement in a big way. As opposed to a purpose-built Chili Bowl car, which many of the top teams bring to Tulsa each year, the car Bright drove into the show is the same one that Rodela tipped the team plans to run when the outdoor midget season kicks off later this spring.
“That car right there is our outdoor car and I didn’t build anything in particular that’s special about it to come to this race,” Rodela explained. “But it’s the Chili Bowl. Everyone thinks it’s the coolest race on the planet, even though I don’t really think of it that way. I’m more concerned about later this year and what we’ve got going there.
“This is all, obviously, awesome, though. I’ll take it; there’s no denying that,” he added. “You want to do the best you can at every place you show up to and this is a big moment for our team.”
Rodela has been wrenching on Tom Malloy’s entries for nearly 15 years, and said that Saturday night’s A Main — as the car comes down the ramp for the main event — will be “one of the coolest moments” he’s ever experienced in the sport.
To have a chance to contend for a Golden Driller would be icing on the cake, he added.
“That’s going to be pretty cool,” said Rodela. “I’d be thrilled for that. It’s what you wake up in the morning to do in this sport, is to go out and win. You don’t want to do anything less.
“Hopefully, we can have a great opportunity Saturday night and have some fun with it.”
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