Bowman's Journey Takes Him Back Home

Alex Bowman

A week after making his Sprint Cup debut in the Daytona 500, Alex Bowman will race in front of family and friends at Phoenix International Raceway. (Photo: Getty Images)

The enormity of it all struck Alex Bowman. Jimmie Johnson was there. Dale Earnhardt Jr. over there. Jeff Gordon was over there.

“I’m actually racing with these guys now,’’ Bowman recalled thinking.

That scene - before Daytona 500 driver introductions - provided a memorable moment in the 20-year-old’s journey, which started at an Arizona quarter-midget track, included a hospital stay after a vicious midget crash and featured a dramatic dash to make the 500.

Along the way, Bowman’s father, Sean, put a second mortgage on his home to keep his son’s racing going, watched his used car dealership close under the weight of the economic slowdown and saw his collision repair business affected as well.

A week after Bowman finished 23rd in the Daytona 500, he’ll compete at Phoenix International Raceway, located about 90 minutes from where Bowman grew up in Tucson, Ariz. Nearly 40 family and friends - including Bowman’s 80-year-old grandmother - are expected to sit together for Sunday’s race and many more will be elsewhere around the track.

“Without him, I definitely couldn’t have done it,’’ Bowman said of his father. “Without the rest of my family supporting the decisions ... we couldn’t have done it.’’

Sean Bowman had been a race fan and looked to share something with his son. Sean saw his son’s fascination with cars, including a time when Bowman snagged Sean’s car keys from him and jumped into the diver’s seat, pretending to drive. A quarter-midget track was nearby and Sean thought racing would be a good father-son activity. He got his son a quarter-midget when Bowman was 7 years old.

It didn’t take long for Bowman to win.

“When he won his first race, it was all over,’’ Sean said of his son’s career path. “He just got such a sense of accomplishment and pride.’’

Bowman collected nine quarter-midget national championships before he moved to racing midget cars. He was the USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year in 2009. Even more seemed ahead of him until his crash the next year at the dirt track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Bowman’s midget tumbled more than a dozen times, the impact cracking ribs, smashing his collarbone and breaking blood vessels in his eyes. He spent seven days in intensive care, the first three days he was unable to see because his eyes where swollen shut. When his eyes opened, his vision was blurry. Eventually, the 16-year-old’s sight returned and he was ready to go racing.

Bowman, who had his arms in a sling, was told he wouldn’t race for eight weeks.

“Doc, I got a race in three weeks,’’ Sean recalls his son telling his doctor.

"And?’’ the doctor said.

“And I want to know if I can race.

“Competitively?

“Yeah, competitively.

“Kid,’’ the doctor told Bowman, “I’ve never driven a racecar a day in my life. I have a better chance of getting in that car and being competitive than you do.

“So, I can race but you don’t think I can be competitive.’’

Frustrated, the doctor told Bowman: “You’ll never take the pain.’’

Four weeks and two days after the accident, Bowman was back in a car.

That crash concerned Sean and he decided that his son’s best path in racing was stock cars.

Bowman won two ARCA starts in 2011 and was the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Rookie of the Year. He scored four ARCA wins in 2012 and won that series’ rookie of the year honors. He moved to the Nationwide Series last year, finishing 11th in the points.

A promising season ended in disappointment. Bowman, who had six top-10 finishes, was replaced for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He said he found out via the Internet.

“Not going to Homestead was pretty stressful,’’ Bowman said. “You don’t know if you’re ever going to race a car again.’’

His fortune changed with BK Racing looking for replacements for Travis Kvapil and David Reutimann. A deal was completed and Bowman suddenly found himself getting ready for the Sprint Cup Series ahead of schedule.

Things didn’t go well at Speedweeks, though. He and teammate Ryan Truex were slow in qualifying. They were too far down in car owner points to have a chance for a provisional. They would have to race their way into the 500 via their Duel.

Bowman rallied on the final lap to finish 14th - the top 15 qualified for the Daytona 500. His father ran to the garage and hugged his son after Bowman climbed from the car.

“I have got to pinch myself that I’m really awake and not dreaming this,’’ Sean said of the last couple of weeks for his son.

“If you drive through Tucson and look off to the side of the road, because the quarter-midget track is just off the freeway ... it seems like it was just yesterday he was racing there and now he’s racing against guys that he idolized that are the best of the best, it’s phenomenal. We’ll feel that way all season long whether it’s a good day or a bad day. It’s still a good day for us.’’

Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage of The Profit on CNBC 500 starting at 2 p.m. (ET) with live streaming at MRN.com.

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