NASCAR’s Jimmy Elledge To Dip Into Chili Bowl
By Len Hayward | Senior Correspondent
TULSA, Okla. – Jimmy Elledge’s experience driving a Midget is vastly different than his time spent working as a crew chief and mechanic in NASCAR’s top series. That hasn’t stopped the Sprint Cup Series veteran – who is semi-retired but will still work some events in 2014 for Phoenix Racing – from entering his first Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.
Elledge is not only one of 64 Chili Bowl rookies taking to the Tulsa Expo Center’s quarter-mile clay track for the 28th annual week-long indoor event. He also is among a handful of folks from NASCAR Nation who have made their way to one of short-track racing’s premier gatherings.
Elledge has made his living in NASCAR from atop of a pit box. So while Elledge logged some experience driving when he was younger in a Quarter Midget, he harbors no illusions of grandeur this week.
Elledge is slated to race in qualifying events on Thursday night, and hopes to not find himself too deep in the Alphabet Soup of Last Chance Main Events on Saturday.
“The biggest thing is I just want to stay out of trouble and I don’t want to cause any trouble,” said Elledge, who worked with Chili Bowl-favorite and current Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates Sprint Cup driver Kyle Larson in 2013.
“I don’t want to spin-out and take anybody out, or flip the car over and tear up any equipment. I don’t want to be the worst. If I’m in the last quarter, I would say that’s realistic expectations for the first time.”
Elledge, though, will have plenty of Chili Bowl experience in his corner this week. A native of Northern California, Elledge will be driving for Nationwide Series regular Justin Allgaier, who has qualified for the Chili Bowl Main Event three times in his career.
In a reversal of roles, Allgaier will be working as Elledge’s crew chief here. Elledge also will be driving a Midget that Allgaier piloted in last year’s event.
“He’s helping a lot, and I think that absolutely he’s trying to coach me how to drive at the same time,” Elledge said of Allgaier. “He’s been a big help. He’s a lot of fun in these scenarios. We’ve done a lot of little projects like this whether it’s Outlaw cart racing, RC (radio-controlled) car racing or just goofing-off. We do a lot of things together.”
Elledge’s first chance behind the wheel was during a practice session on Monday, and he was expected to test on a small dirt track in the Tulsa area to further get used to the car.
Elledge said he didn’t try to push the car to the edge, adding he actually felt comfortable in his first turns in a Midget.
“I’m usually way better racing than I am practicing anyway,” said Elledge, the owner of QRC, which makes Winged Outlaw Go-Karts. “I didn’t follow anybody (Monday) because outside of a handful of cars I don’t know who’s who. I didn’t want to say, ‘I’m going to follow Kyle (Larson) or Joey Saldana and smoke it off in there and do what they do.’ The cars are a blast to drive and it’s a neat racetrack.”
Elledge’s results this weekend are secondary to participating in one of grassroots racing’s biggest events, and the experience he will gain.
“I’ve been able to do a lot of neat things in my racing career, and this by far is going to rank way up there as one of them,” Elledge said. “I’ve heard about it for years and watched videos and watched it on TV. It doesn’t do it any justice, for sure. It’s something you have to see and witness for yourself.”
– Len Hayward is a veteran motorsports journalist and RacinToday.com contributor who is currently working in TexasOne Comment