Race drivers have made their way to the top level of NASCAR from both all parts of the United States, and the world, but only one has managed to make the trek from Emporia, Kansas to the big show.
Clint Bowyer is from a city of just under 25,000 in the eastern part of that state. He cut his teeth on the dirt tracks of the Midwest and then honed his skills on asphalt once a couple of his favorite tracks were paved. He also perfected a personality all his own, one that’s become both unique and endearing to many within the sport. Famously, before his big break in NASCAR, Bowyer hung up on Richard Childress when the team owner called to offer him a ride.
Luckily, Bowyer returned his call and has made the most of his Sprint Cup opportunity, both on and off the track. He has already given back to his hometown, building a community center in the city — and continues to give back through his foundation. To say he is a free spirit is probably an understatement, but Bowyer certainly embraces life and loves spending time in the outdoors, frequently hunting. He sat down with The Frontstretch before last weekend’s race to talk a little about that life away from the racetrack, along with balancing the changes on it with Michael Waltrip Racing in 2014.
Mike Neff: You and Brian Pattie are now the elder statesmen at Michael Waltrip Racing. Has that caused you two to have to take on a bigger leadership role within the organization?
Clint Bowyer: Not really. Ever since I walked in the door at MWR, everything has been pretty effortless, everything has pretty much just clicked. From management to sponsorship to the product on the race track, everything has just always felt at home and natural. Everyone gets along and everyone works hard and we get pretty good results.
Neff: Growing up in Emporia, Kansas did you live on a farm or were you an urbanite in town?
Bowyer: (laughs) My dad actually owned a towing service and we lived in town. Every friend I had was either a farmer or in the cattle business. I was always around them and out in the country with them farting around.
Neff: When you started out, you ran some smaller cars but before you moved on to the NASCAR touring series ranks, were you running Modifieds or Late Models?
Bowyer: I was running Modifieds. I started at Thunderhill Speedway. I won a track championship at Thunderhill and then one at Heartland Park. Then we went over and won a couple at Lakeside, and then moved over, ran dirt and asphalt, won one at Lakeside and one at I-70 on asphalt that year. Most of my racing was at Lakeside Speedway.
Neff: You helped build a community center in Emporia through your participation in the Emporia Community Foundation. Is there any thought of doing more building in your hometown?
Bowyer: Absolutely. We have a golf tournament every year and raise a lot of money. We donate to all sorts of causes all year long — backpack programs for the kids, scholarships for the colleges and the tech school. We do things at the hospital and things at camps.
I’ve always said from day one [that] when we started that fund, I wanted it to be worthwhile and make a lasting impression on the community to bring people in. We had a concert, and my buddy Blake Shelton came in, played at the grand opening and raised a bunch of money. There has always been a lot of hype and a lot of funds generated from my friends from out of town and a lot of my sponsors contribute to the fund. That is what makes it fun for me. It is always something different. We have a board where people apply for all sorts of different causes and things like that and it is that simple. The board goes through all of the applications and then picks a lot of really good projects to put the money toward every year.
Neff: Have they given you a key to the city yet?
Bowyer: No, I don’t have a key to the dang city! I don’t know why I should. (laughs) It has always been fun. To be honest, I don’t think I have a key to the city but Emporia doesn’t have a door. The door is always open. It is one of those old cities where the door is one of those swinging door types so you can just come on in. Now, being a business owner and buying the dealership where my brother and I first worked is really cool. Working on cars for the manufacturer that I race for is really neat. You get to see both sides of that, so it is really neat.
Neff: When you go hunting, do you prefer birds or four-legged creatures?
Bowyer: I like hunting. It doesn’t matter — whatever you are hunting — and it is because of this: Every time I go hunting, sometimes I’ll go by myself, but I’ve usually got a friend with me or a sponsor, and that relationship that you build during a hunting adventure is second to none. If a sponsor comes to me and asks what I want to do with them and what would it be, the answer is simple: I’d tell them we should go hunting. I think it is the best way to truly spend quality time getting to know someone. Being in the great outdoors, camping, hunting — it just brings everything to the table that my world does. It is competitive. It is very hard to go out and hunt whatever you are hunting. You also get the socializing aspect and having fun afterward, enjoying the whole moment.
Neff: Have you added any new cars to your collection lately?
Bowyer: No cars. My latest addition is a Peterbilt pick-up truck. It is… well, it is just bad-ass. It is hard to get around the fact that it is just bad-ass.
Neff: Were you voted most likely to succeed in your high school class?
Bowyer: I was voted “Who the hell is this guy and where did he go?” That was because of this: I wasn’t the most popular kid in school. I didn’t play football, captain of the football and basketball team or something like that. I was the kid that nobody understood. We left as soon as school was out and went racing. We took off motorcycle racing from the time I was four years old. Any weekend, we were always gone. When the high school scene started showing up and there were parties and stuff like that, again I was always gone racing. Then, when you come back for the class reunion and you pick up the tab for all of the beer, people finally realize what all of that hard work was for.
Neff: Did you go to your prom with the cheerleader or the local school girl?
Bowyer: For the prom, I went to Lakeside Speedway. I didn’t have time for girls back then.
Neff: Now, if a young lady calls today and asks you if you would go to the prom with her, would you go?
Bowyer: If somebody called from my school and asked if I’d like to go to the prom? If I could, hell yeah, I’d go with them. It’s be fun. I’ve never been before. I don’t know why they’d want to go with a grumpy old man, though. There are a bunch of young whippersnappers that they would want to take to prom — not my old butt.
Neff: When you walk around the track and see people wearing your merchandise, is it weird seeing your head on someone’s T-Shirt?
Bowyer: I think every time you see somebody wearing some of your merchandise, it is always weird. I don’t know if “weird” is the word for that. A great deal of pride and responsibility goes into that. Every time I see someone, I feel like going up and telling them that I’m going to give it my all today and try and win for both of us.
Bowyer embodies many of the characteristics that NASCAR fans are most attracted to. He is honest, humble, funny and knows how to have fun as much as anyone in the sport. Bowyer has shown he is a wheelman, too thanks to his second-place finish in the Cup Series in 2012. Last year, he fought off the runner-up jinx, plus the Richmond controversy to come home a solid seventh. He’s had a rough start this season but, good or bad, the driver always seems to have a positive attitude. That outlook will serve Bowyer well — and if it doesn’t work out, heck, at least he’ll go hunting and things will seem better.