Race Weekend Central

Alex Bowman on Building Drift Cars, Handling Internal Pressure & His Own Identity

Alex Bowman is the new face behind the wheel of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet that Jimmie Johnson made famous.

With two wins under his belt driving the No. 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports (Chicagoland Speedway 2019, Auto Club Speedway 2020) that formerly belonged to Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bowman moves into yet another prolific ride in the sport.

The start of his 2021 campaign has been up and down. The good news? He claimed pole position for the Daytona 500 – historically marking four consecutive years on the front row of the Great American Race – and finished 10th at the Daytona International Speedway road course.

The bad news? He was collected in the Big One just 15 laps into the Daytona 500, relegating him to a 36th-place finish. Coupled with his 10th-place rebound on Feb. 21, Bowman sits 23rd in points.

Before the 500, Bowman sat down with Frontstretch to discuss the offseason, car projects away from the track and building his own identity despite the legacies of the drivers before him.

Zach Sturniolo, Frontstretch: What kind of things were you able to do in the offseason despite how limited everything’s been with COVID-19 — whether it’s been for fun or for work?

Alex Bowman: It’s been different, you know? Obviously, things are limited. Definitely not in the shop as much as I normally am, not around my team as much as I normally am. I was still able to do some fun things. I built a drift car and took it to Florida a couple times. So that was a good time. Went to Colorado with some of my friends and went snowboarding and then went and did the Chili Bowl, so I was still able to do fun stuff, which was nice, but definitely not in the same capacity as normal, you know?

Sturniolo: It’s no secret you’re a major car guy. But between the Corvette, the Cadillac, and I know there’s a video that popped up recently about another car that’s not a Chevy that I won’t mention by name — but how do you like to maximize your time, either working with those cars or playing with them behind the wheel?

Bowman: Yeah, for sure. I think I’ve built my fair share of cool stuff over the last couple years. And you know I’m pretty OCD about things and haven’t – like, you build streetcars and you can’t really go race them, obviously. And I built a drift car. And it’s like, it’s not nice. It’s an old beat up car. Like, there’s nothing special about it, but I haven’t had that much fun doing anything ever, I don’t think. So that’s been a lot of fun.

Obviously, starting [Alex Bowman Racing] or building a shop for ABR and turning it into a real thing last year was a lot of fun. I probably bit off more than I can chew in a sense. Like, I have too many projects, and I’m not able to do them all myself. So that’s why that other car is not getting built by me and not getting built by local shops, because that wasn’t going well either. So it’s just one of those things that I want to do a lot, and I can only do so much. But it’s been a lot of fun. I just love cars, love tinkering, and the drift car’s my favorite I’ve ever built. So it’s been really cool.

Sturniolo: You mentioned ABR and the dirt midget racing, I know that’s been a big part of your background and your life. Now you’ve got a teammate in Kyle Larson, who is just dominating those things. Chase [Elliott] got himself involved this year in some midget racing as well. What’s that been like for you? Have you guys been able to bond over that at all?

Bowman: Yeah, for sure. I’ve always obviously been friends with Larson through it and spent a lot of time talking to him about that, so that’s been cool to have him as a teammate. I think it’s really cool that Chase stepped outside of his comfort zone and went and did that. That was really neat to see, and he did a phenomenal job. For me, I don’t really have as much of a dirt background as people think. I’ve probably run 15 dirt midget races in my life. And most of them were, like 10 or 12 years ago now.

So the dirt side has been a lot of fun. I enjoy those cars. I enjoy working on them probably as much as I do driving them. So that’s a lot of what I did this winter, and we have a sprint car too now. So we’re gonna go run that, and it’s been a lot of fun.

Sturniolo: Back to the NASCAR side of things and talking about your background, you’ve really become a true face of guys who have started out in backmarker equipment, with all due respect to those teams, to rise to one of the sport’s pinnacle teams. When you reflect on the early part of your career, what is the most drastically different thing about your situation now compared to where you were even five-six years ago?

Bowman: A lot changed, right? I was a broke kid just trying to make it and make a living and be able to pay rent. Like, I mean 2016 when I lost my ride [with Tommy Baldwin Racing] right before Daytona, I was selling my seats to be able to pay rent. And then by the end of that year, I was driving for Hendrick Motorsports. So a lot has changed. I feel like the pressure I put on myself is really the thing that stayed consistent.

Like, I had my goals no matter what the car I was driving was. I had what I thought was acceptable and where I thought I needed to run, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to make those goals happen and to run well. So I still have that. Those goals just got higher, obviously. But yeah, the tools I have to improve myself as a racecar driver have changed. My life has changed. Like, pretty much everything has changed.

Sturniolo: I want to hit on something you said there and elsewhere recently – that there’s not a car number in the world that’s going to put more pressure on you than yourself. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit more. What is it that you expect from yourself, particularly in this situation you’re in now? Obviously, it’s the same group of guys this year, it’s really just a different car number. But what do you expect out of yourself on a yearly basis here?

Bowman: To win races and contend for championships. I feel like nobody’s gonna make me want to win more than I want to win myself. So I guess I don’t really know how to explain it better than that. I want to win races. And that comes from me wanting to win from me, not [car owner Rick Hendrick] telling me he wants more wins or anybody from the outside. I just want to go win. And I care about how we run as a race team. If we run bad, I don’t do a good job of not showing it. If we have a bad weekend, I’m gonna be frustrated until we go to the racetrack the next weekend and have a good weekend. I don’t get over it very well. I just care a lot. And in a lot of situations, I probably care too much. But I just really want to run well and really want to win races.

Sturniolo: So you go from driving the No. 88 to now the No. 48. Is it any more difficult to establish your own identity in the Cup Series? And is that an important thing for you as you advance through your career?

Bowman: You know, I don’t really worry about [if] my identity in the Cup Series is tied to a car number or anything like that. Obviously, I kind of keep to myself. I’m probably on the shy side, a little awkward sometimes. I want my identity to be based on success and results and things on the racetrack more than things off the racetrack. So I haven’t really worried about it too much because I haven’t run how I feel like I need to run to create the identity that I want. Right? So a number change doesn’t change any of that for me. You know what I’m saying?

Sturniolo: For sure. This kind of goes back to part of the pressure, but I guess more so toward expectations. After the company wins the championship with Elliott last year, do you feel like it changes any expectations across the board at HMS? Or does it just reinforce the standard that has been set over the past few decades?

Bowman: I think it just reinforces that that’s always the expectation at HMS, to at least contend for championships and win races, you know? So I think it just reinforces it, and I’m ready to to go chase one this year. I feel like if we run how we did through the playoffs, we’re plenty capable of making that happen if we can run that way all year. So I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m really proud of HMS as a whole and being able to go get that championship, and hopefully, we can do it again this year. Just with with my name on it.

Sturniolo: You mentioned recently you’ve got that first-win Chicago car sitting in the shop now at ABR. How significant is having that in the shop? And I know you said you’re really not sure what you’re gonna do with it. Is there anything that’s come to mind yet?

Bowman: It’s complete. Like you could start it and drop it out of the shop. I’m not really sure what you do with a two-year-old Cup car aside from hold onto it and appreciate it. So it’s pretty neat. Something I’m extremely thankful for and something I really never thought would happen, just to go win that race. And that car had a lot of success. We ran really well with it quite a bit. So to have Mr. H kind of give all of it to me — not just the chassis and the body, but the drivetrain and every bit and piece of it — it’s really neat to have and really special for sure.

Sturniolo: From the 30,000-foot view, how do you want people to perceive you? I know that goes back to the identity thing we talked about, but what do you want the perception of yourself to be, whether that’s as a driver or as a person on or off the racetrack?

Bowman: I think the biggest thing is I’m just a regular person, right? Like I still find it weird — maybe not weird — but like, fans. [Recently], I was working in my shop and had two fans just walk in and want autographs, and that blew me away that somebody — they said they drove like two and a half hours. I’m like, first of all, how did you know I would be here? But, second of all, that’s wild that you would spend so much time [to do that]. We’re not open to the public, but that’s wild.

I’m just a regular person. I’m a car guy. I love animals. But really, I want to win races, and I want to be able to do that so people look at me as a great racecar driver. I feel like I need to do more on the racetrack. I need to prove more on the racetrack than we have over the last couple years to get to that point, but I think we’re plenty capable. But outside the racecar, I’m just a normal guy. If I’m not at HMS or not training, I’m in my race shop working on racecars or streetcars. My hands are always cut up all the time from working on stuff. If I wasn’t driving a race car, I’d just be a mechanic somewhere. So it’s really cool to get to do both.

Follow @zachstur

About the author

Pocono Raceway is his home track and he's been attending races there since 2002. A fan since he was three years old, Zach is living out a dream covering racing, including past coverage of ARCA and IndyCar.

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Doug Rafferty

Outstanding interview.
But for us new comers (67), what is a float car? My mind goes towards a car on pontoons. Lol

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