Archive for Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bowyer NASCAR’s new star

Emporia native challenging Gordon, Johnson for title

October 17, 2007


Clint Bowyer, left, talks with Carl Edwards during practice for the Bank of America 500. Bowyer, a Kansas native, took second in the race and has established himself as a dark horse contender for the Nextel Cup.

Clint Bowyer, left, talks with Carl Edwards during practice for the Bank of America 500. Bowyer, a Kansas native, took second in the race and has established himself as a dark horse contender for the Nextel Cup.

Surrounded by a crush of media, blond-haired, blue-eyed Clint Bowyer stands - with his hands on his hips - and hardly a question passes without the NASCAR driver eliciting laughter.

Once the pack disperses, a few men approach Bowyer. Before the conversation ends Bowyer politely requests, "Give me your phone number so I can call you." It's a small moment, but a glimpse into the world of NASCAR's newest star, a down-to-earth 28-year-old.

To Bowyer's left, reigning champion Jimmie Johnson and four-time champion Jeff Gordon's haulers are parked. To Bowyer's right, two-time champion Tony Stewart's hauler is parked. But that doesn't faze Bowyer, a second-year Cup driver.

"I don't think it's sunk into him that he deserves to be here," Bowyer's crew chief Gil Martin said. "It's happened so fast that sometimes it's hard to figure out how this happened."

Four years ago, Bowyer was working in a body shop in his hometown of Emporia. Now Bowyer is in contention for the Nextel Cup championship.

With five races left in the Chase for the Cup, Bowyer is the surprise of the field. After finishing runner-up in Saturday's race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., he trails first-place Gordon by 78 points. So far Bowyer is the only driver to keep pace with favorites Gordon and Johnson.

When the Chase started a little over a month ago, few considered Bowyer a threat for the title. By virtue of NASCAR's seeding system, he began the Chase 12th, as the only winless driver in the field. A dominating victory in the opening Chase race in Loudon, N.H., changed perception and has been the defining moment in Bowyer's Cup career.

"We had nowhere to go but up," Bowyer said recently in an interview. "We were as low as we could possibly get. It's amazing what one race will do."

It's mind-boggling to Bowyer that he is chasing a Cup title, because a few years ago he was nowhere near landing a ride. Bowyer grew up racing motocross; he won more than 200 races and several championships.

As a teenager, Bowyer worked at a Goodyear shop, doing everything from sweeping the floors to helping people with tire troubles roadside. Bowyer spurned a motocross career against his father's wishes and started racing on four wheels.

"By the time you're in your 20s, you're done," Bowyer's father, Chris Bowyer, said. "He could see that and wanted to get in a type of racing he could do a few more years. Boy, that was the one decision that made it. I didn't necessarily support it at the time, but I didn't have much choice."

He transitioned from racing on dirt tracks to asphalt. The most significant day of Bowyer's racing life was a 2003 ARCA race in Nashville. Bowyer scraped together a few thousand dollars to compete in the lower-level, stock car development series. NASCAR owner Richard Childress was watching the race from his motor home in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and saw a gem in Bowyer, who finished in second place.

Childress then cold-called Bowyer at body shop John North Ford in Emporia. Bowyer felt certain one of his buddies had decided to play a practical joke.

"The secretary that got on the phone asked if I would take a call from Richard Childress, and I was like, 'Yeah, who is this?'" recalled Bowyer. "It's just crazy."

But then he heard Childress' voice, and realized it was the owner who had won six championships with Dale Earnhardt Sr.

"He was wanting to talk about a job opportunity, and it's like, 'There's no way,'" Bowyer said.

The call still seems surreal to Bowyer. He insists that making it to the Cup series seemed far-fetched.

Despite his quick ascent in NASCAR, Bowyer is undaunted and remains humble. And his peers are finding it difficult to ignore his Chase run.

"He's incredible," Gordon said. "He's impressing a lot of people right now."

Bowyer, along with teammate and Chase contender Kevin Harvick, are the only drivers with zero DNFs this season.

Now, Clint Bowyer just hopes that he'll again be recalling his unconventional path and magical season come Nov. 18, when the series champion is crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.