Alex Bowman looks forward to January every year. It’s when he gets to escape the grind of responsibilities that comes with being a NASCAR Cup Series veteran and return to his roots at the Chili Bowl Nationals.
During the weeklong chase in Midget racing’s crown jewel event, the 28-year-old Arizona native trades the role of driver for Hendrick Motorsports to driver/owner of Alex Bowman Racing.
“I get to be a racer,” Bowman told RACER. “My job is to perform at the highest level for the biggest team in the sport in NASCAR, and there’s a lot of things that come along with that. I have my plate full with a lot of things that aren’t necessarily just driving the race car. When I come here, it’s just work on the race car, drive the race car, make the race car the best it can be. And I love that. I grew up building my own race cars, maintaining my own stuff, working on my stuff from the time I was 10 years old on, spending every night all night in the garage. So, I love coming here.”
ABR has three of the record 394 entries at this year’s Chili Bowl, with C.J. Leary and Jake Swanson (pictured below, photo by the author) piloting alongside Bowman.
“I get to go racing with my best friends for a week — there’s not much better than that,” Bowman added. “I take a lot of pride in how our stuff looks and how it performs, and I just love getting to be a racer for a week.”
While this year marks Bowman’s sixth time competing in the event as a driver, he has been a regular as an owner since his debut in 2010.
Bowman was part of the group that kicked off the week’s festivities on Monday. Running the No. 55X entry, he drove to a fourth in his heat race, followed by a win in the qualifier before ending with a ninth-place finish in the preliminary A-Feature. The final result places him solidly into the C-Main for Saturday, when the Golden Driller trophy is on the line.
“I feel like I always come here with low expectations and have moments throughout the night that kind of ramp the expectations up and then get hit with a reality a little bit in the feature, just with not having a lot of laps in these race cars, but I’m super happy with our cars,” said Bowman, a six-time winner in the Cup Series. “I think we’ve improved on our program quite a bit and I’m really hopeful for the other two guys to have really good nights. I felt like we were really good in the beginning of the feature — probably too good on the bottom, to the point where I was too hesitant to get off the bottom and go to the top and I lost like five spots. It’s hard to come back from that once the rubber came and everybody went to the bottom. I think I matched my best prelim feature finish and I haven’t driven a Midget in a couple years, so I’ll take it but I always want more.”
Swanson finished fourth on Tuesday night’s preliminary A-Feature, putting his No. 55A entry into Saturday’s B-Main. Leary isn’t set to roll off for his preliminary night until Thursday. Even so, Bowman has already seen significant improvement in his team’s program.
“Having Joe Gaerte full-time this year on our Sprint Car program, I feel like really improved our Midget program, just having another racer in the shop besides me full-time to work on things, and help me with things,” said Bowman. “He’s got so much knowledge; I th ink that was a big add. We changed race cars — I don’t necessarily know that our cars are any faster than they’ve been in the past, they’re just a little easier to drive. And then I feel like we just got a little more dialed in this year. Typically, I show up here and I’m like, ‘I wish I would’ve done this differently,’ or ‘I wish I would’ve done that differently in the car building process,’ and I’m really happy and proud of what we brought. A couple little tweaks we could always change, but I feel like we’ve got every aspect of the race cars pretty polished up.”
In the end, Bowman would like to have two of his ABR cars in Saturday’s main event. However, those expectations are put more on the talents of Leary and Swanson rather than himself.
“My expectations are more for the other two,” he said. “I’d like to put two in the show. I think that’d be really special. For me, playing with house money, my goal was to make the prelim feature and we’re on TV on Saturday night. So if I make the B, great. Been in the B before and almost made the A before, so I’d be punching well above my pay grade if I make the A on Saturday. It’d be really cool to be able to do that, but at the same time I’m much more focused on the other two at this point.”