TULSA, Okla. — As if it weren’t obvious by the unique hats he likes to wear on the grid before each NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event, Carson Hocevar likes to have fun.
That makes the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, taking place this week in inside the SageNet Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the perfect place for Hocevar.
“You’ve just got to experience it,” Hocevar said of the Chili Bowl. “No way around it — you’ve at least got to come once. I guarantee after you come once, you’re here for the rest of your life.”
Hocevar, who is preparing for his third full season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with Niece Motorsports, first competed at the Chili Bowl in 2022. He had so much fun, both as a competitor and as a spectator, that he made sure to include the 2023 edition of the event on his schedule.
“The first year I came here was last year, and I was just excited to run laps,” Hocevar said. “I didn’t really know a lot of people or anything really about this. I’d watched it, but I’d never experienced it. I’d never come here, just because I wanted to hold out and have my first experience driving rather than being a fan.
“This year has been extremely fun. I know a lot of people. I feel like I can walk three trailers and I’ll know somebody. I’m meeting new people now. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m not there yet on the race track on being quick. The social aspect and the fun meter is really the one that matters, and that one is pegged out.”
The Chili Bowl is unique in that it brings together drivers from all different backgrounds to compete under one roof, both literally and figuratively.
Each year, the Chili Bowl draws in excess of 300 competitors. That typically includes the best dirt racers in the world, such as defending Chili Bowl winner Tanner Thorson, as well as drivers from the NASCAR ranks, like Chase Briscoe and Alex Bowman.
Other forms of auto racing are also often represented. NHRA drag racers like Cruz Pedregon and Ron Capps have competed at the Chili Bowl, as have IndyCar drivers Conor Daly and Santino Ferrucci.
So not only is the Chili Bowl one of the biggest grassroots motorsports events in the United States, but it is also one of the biggest motorsports social gatherings in the world.
“It’s not often you have dirt late model guys, sprint car guys, IndyCar guys, NHRA guys, everybody from different levels,” Hocevar said. “I got to meet Santino Ferrucci this weekend, and we’ve talked nonstop. I never would have met him if it wasn’t for this race. I got to know (Chase) Briscoe and (Alex) Bowman. We’re all out of our element here, they’re in their element a little bit more than I am, but they’re not at that excel mark yet. They’re getting close. Their goal is to make it on Saturday where mine is to make it on our prelim night.
“We all have so many different goals. We all come in with a little less pressure because it’s mainly just about making the show as exciting for us depending upon what night you are. There’s not the pressure to win the show, because unless people have really, really bad nights, I have no shot in hell. I’m just excited to be here. The expectation is super low.
“Anything over [that] is great and super rewarding, but more than anything, it’s just about fun and no pressure. That’s really what it is.”
Hocevar competed in Wednesday’s preliminary event but was unable to race his way into the preliminary feature that was won by former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitor Rico Abreu. He did manage to win his C Main before finishing 10th in a B Main.
He could have easily been upset with that performance, but that’s not Hocevar’s style. Instead, he took to stands and hung out with fans. He specifically went to hang out with the group that calls themselves the ‘Top Row Rowdies,” where he enjoyed some adult beverages and got pelted with marshmallows alongside Ferrucci and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s niece, Karsyn Elledge.
That’s just a typical Wednesday at the Chili Bowl.
“That was my first time really getting up in the rowdy section,” Hocevar said. “It’s a lot of fun now that I’m up there. It’s not just the rowdies, I’m up there with buddies of mine now and meeting new guys. Me and Karsyn Elledge were up there, and we’d just got done battling for eighth or 10th in a B Main. We were battling and then we were up with the rowdies laughing about it.
“That’s stuff you don’t really get to do any other place than here.”