All of the commentary about Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus’s Hendrick Motorsports team’s domination in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series reached into a corner of my alleged brain and picked out some memories from 40 years ago.
The name was Jack Bowsher, and back then there was also a driver/crew chief/owner combination. Then, however, there was only one man involved. Jack was the driver, crew chief and car owner.
And there was also a factory connection. He was supported by Ford, I assume through the Holman-Moody combine. In my opinion, however, their support probably ended with delivery of the car. Jack liked to build his own equipment, do all of his own work on it and of course drive that bus himself.
He was one of the most innovative mechanics I’ve known, second only to Harry Hyde among those I’ve known well. He’s been given credit for introducing the first “down-tube” modified, something which was eventually picked up by the sprint car crowd.
It seemed like every year he’d show up with something new at Daytona, sending ARCA officials into conferences and the rest of the competitors rushing to copy it if they found out what it was. One year, I remember, it resulted in everybody having to redo the undersides of their cars. Jack had showed up with screening (like from a screen door) under his, and everybody else did it, too.
Jack saw his first race in 1949, the same year I saw my first one. While my involvement became on the journalistic and officiating side, Jack was a car owner and driver from that year on. I guess the effect on both of us was pretty much the same.
I’ve found photos of Jack in a supermodified, as well as on the beach/road course at Daytona in the 50s. But what I remember most was his success in ARCA.
He actually signed up with John Marcum in 1953, when the Midwest Association for Race Cars was formed. He was the last MARC champion in 1963, the first ARCA champion when the name was changed in 1964, and won that title again in 1965. He was USAC’s Stock Car Division champion car owner in 1968, with AJ Foyt driving, and he was ARCA’s champion car owner three more times in the 90s.
He had one NASCAR premier series win as a car owner, when Foyt won at Riverside in 1970.
I first got acquainted with Jack Bowsher when I flagged my first MARC race at the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville in 1962. When I started flagging more ARCA races a couple of years later, he came to me after a race at Dayton and wanted to talk about what I did up there and why I did it. He asked what triggered my reactions and all sorts of questions.
I asked him why he was doing this, and he said, “John [Marcum] says you’re gonna be working more races, and knowing what you’re doing helps me know what to do.”
From that day on, he “debriefed” with me after every race I worked. He was the first driver to do that with me. I was even more impressed when the second driver to do so was Curtis Turner.
What impressed me most about Jack was the way his cars were prepared. They were immaculate. And they were usually perfect from the minute they rolled off the hauler.
There was some grumbling about how Jack had the factory help, but I always figured he also worked a little harder than everybody else. Nearly every race, it was obvious from the start of practice that the white No. 21 Ford was the car to beat.
One of my best Bowsher memories comes from a race he lost. Charlie Glotzbach took Billy Clemons’s Ford to Lawrenceburg (Ind.) for an ARCA 100-lapper on that banked quarter-mile dirt track. We beat Jack by a straightaway.
We’d been running him hard with Charlie’s ’64 Chevy, and after the race he came to congratulate us (I wasn’t flagging that day) and said, “You got me tonight, but you had to use another Ford to do it.”
I had a hunch that Ford was going to move Jack to USAC as a car owner after what happened at Daytona in 1966. Jack had won the ARCA 250 pretty handily, with Ramo Stott’s Plymouth the only other car on the lead lap, and he stayed around for the week.
That was Junior Johnson’s first year as a car owner, and he had Bobby Isaac in the No. 26 car and Foyt in the No. 47.
Isaac was running really well, but Foyt was having problems. One car after another wouldn’t handle or the engine let go. He went through his backup car, then through Isaac’s backup car. As he was getting ready to hop in the Isaac backup for the first time during practice, I was sitting on the pit wall along with Jack, and I said I wonder what they were going to do if he blew that one.
Foyt heard me, and turned around, pointed at Bowsher, and said, “His is next.”
Sure enough, it was. Off with the 21 decals and on with the 47.
With Jack’s help they kept that one together and AJ finished the qualifying race, but a blown head gasket took him out of the 500.
Next I heard, Jack was fielding two cars in USAC for himself and Foyt. That led to the USAC championship in 1968 at the wheel of one of Jack’s cars.
In my mind, Jack was Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and Rick Hendrick all rolled up into one package.
He finished with a total of 80 victories as a car owner, 48 as a driver.
His racing team is still operating, with one of his sons, Todd, doing the driving.
We lost Jack in April of 2006.
I miss him.
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