NASCAR’s Clint Bowyer, in jeans and a flannel shirt, stood on a grass berm between turns one and two, overlooking the half-mile oval at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.
Bowyer ignored the dirt splattering through the fence and onto his boots and intently watched the two Clint Bowyer Racing late-models he owns careening at 130 mph in the World of Outlaws series.
Bowyer, a dirt racer at heart who grew up banging around the short track at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., was in his element. Three nights later, he would win the Bank of America 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway — his career-best third Sprint Cup win of the season — and move into fourth place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
But on this night, dirt racing was all that mattered.
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“We’re racers, and this is what we do,” Bowyer said. “If we’re not racing on Sunday, we’re racing somewhere.”
Between practice runs, qualifying laps, heat races and the main features, Bowyer stuck his head under the hood and inspected the engines of the cars. He discussed strategy with his two drivers, Jonathan Davenport and Jared Landers, and even helped tighten the lug nuts on the wheels before the drivers returned to the track.
And when Bowyer took the walk from his vantage point on the hillside of the track to the muddy garage area, he chatted with fans and signed autographs.
“I grew up racing modifieds, and this is the kind of class I always tried to get to in dirt racing,” said Boywer, who is from Emporia. “If you’re going to dirt race, this is the cream of the crop, racing these late-models. They race ‘em in the Midwest all over.…
“The fan base is very important to me. These are truly my kind of people, so to be able to come back here, and stay attached to the kind of way I grew up racing is a lot of fun for me.”
The dirt track also provides an escape from the rigors and pressures of Sprint Cup racing.
“It’s his passion,” Bowyer’s younger brother, Casey, said. “He’s as serious about this as he is the other (Cup racing).”
All the while, Bowyer was being shadowed by cameras and microphones for SPEED network’s Michael Waltrip Racing All-Access, a behind-the-scenes program featuring MWR teams.
“It’s been fun allowing our fans to see what we do and what goes into getting these cars to the track,” Bowyer said. “And just like tonight, there are so many different things that people don’t realize that we do … with our sponsor obligations and taking care of everything we have to do on the business side of racing, and to be able to come back here and be able to enjoy a night of racing … ”
Inspired by Tony Stewart, who operates a three-time champion World of Outlaws Sprint Car team and owns the Eldora Speedway in Ohio, site of the Prelude to the Dream charity race, Bowyer founded Clint Bowyer Racing in 2007 with one late model.
Bowyer, who has been a Sprint Cup driver since 2006 and Nationwide Series champion in 2005, had the wherewithal to build a 21,000-square-foot shop in Clemmons, N.C., and added the second car this year.
“This is hell of a lot nicer than anything I ever had,” Bowyer said. “When I grew up, the only thing I ever wanted was a semi-rig with a group of guys and go racing, and it’s neat to have that and be able to do that. I wanted a place where we can have it under one roof, park the trucks inside and work inside. I like being at the shop and helping the guys work through what they go through. I love working on the cars themselves …
“I’ve got a couple of younger guys who race for me, and I like being around that and helping them out and doing more with their careers. I’ve been pretty blessed to have good sponsors to help us through the years and continue to keep growing.”
Bowyer does not have a goal of becoming the next Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing or Michael Waltrip Racing, the team for which he now drives.
“No, my goal is to continue to help these kids racing on dirt, win races and win a championship. That’s what we all race for at the end of the year, chasing a championship.”
Perhaps Bowyer’s biggest challenge as a team owner is keeping the shop clean.
“When you’re dirt racing, washing is the biggest part of everything … keeping everything clean,” Bowyer said. “When you come back from a dirt race, everything from tip to toe is dirty … it’s a good two days of washing. I like things looking right.”
Both Davenport, 28, and Landers, 30, appreciate Bowyer’s efforts as an owner.
“He’s a great guy to drive for,” said Davenport of Blairsville, Ga. “In the wintertime, when he has time, he’s in the shop helping us, working on these things. He got his big break … so he’s just trying to give me and Jared our big break. He’s a racer, he knows when things are going bad, it’s not all the time something we can control … sometimes luck isn’t on our side. He understands that.”
Landers, who is from Batesville, Ark., says Bowyer’s rise from the dirt tracks of the Midwest to the biggest stage of NASCAR is an inspiration.
“I’d like to go race on asphalt,” said Landers, who finished 13th on this night. “But times are changing … it’s not as easy to move up in the world anymore. I’d like to be in his spot. But until then, I like to be able to do what we’re doing.”
Bowyer’s win at Charlotte has put him squarely in contention for a Sprint Cup championship for the first time since he finished third in 2007 and fifth in 2008 for Richard Childress Racing. Now, in his first season with Michael Waltrip Racing, he has exceeded the expectations the team had when it announced his move to MWR a year ago at Kansas Speedway.
But if he’s going to make a move on the championship leaders, Bowyer will have to win another race or two among the final five in the Chase, and there’s no place Bowyer would love to win more than at his home track at Kansas Speedway, where his best finish in eight starts was a controversial second in 2007.
Bowyer admits that there’s a little extra pressure on him and Carl Edwards of Columbia to win for the first time at Kansas Speedway.
“It’s important to run good in front of your hometown crowd and in front of your family and friends and everybody that comes out there,” Bowyer said. “It’s just an important weekend for Carl (Edwards) and I both. It’s our home track, and I’ve gotten close a couple times, he’s gotten close a couple times. Neither one of us has ever got the job done. So maybe this is the time.”