Race Weekend Central

Chris Lowden Transitions From ARCA Driver To Team Owner

When Tyler Reif won the General Tire 150 at Phoenix Raceway, he not only captured his first career ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series West victory. He also captured the first win for his team Lowden-Jackson Motorsports.

Team co-owner Chris Lowden had the utmost confidence in Reif, despite Reif falling two laps down after he was spun on lap 12. Lowden termed the spin, which came from Sean Hingorani, a racing situation.

“It was exciting,” Lowden told Frontstretch. “After we won on Friday, we woke up on Saturday and thought, ‘OK, let’s get ready for Pensacola.’ So we’ve been more pragmatic about it. In Phoenix, we had some bad luck, we had some good luck and some other teams had some bad luck as well. We just were able to put it together. We had a fast car, no doubt. The No. 18 [William Sawalich] is always challenging. He had a little bad luck; we were able to take advantage of that. Our car was pretty fast, our crew did a great job getting it back out in a timely fashion after the lap 12 situation.”

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The race featured two overtimes, one of which saw leader Sawalich spin. On the final restart, Landen Lewis appeared to prematurely jump it. Lowden never wavered in his confidence in Reif, partly because he knew how fast Reif’s No. 41 was.

In fact, the talented 15-year-old driver led the Phoenix practice session on scuffed tires.

“In that moment, I had a lot of confidence in Tyler,” Lowden said. “I felt he could pull it off. The last restart didn’t work out in our favor but knowing Tyler, he gets up on the wheel. He’s not lying down for anything. I just watched him for the last two laps and thought, ‘Wow.’”

The win was the first for the organization, but it was not Lowden’s first racing victory. The bearded 58-year-old from Las Vegas won the 1999 super late model championship at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Twenty-four years later, life is a little different for Lowden. He overcame cancer and he expanded his family’s entrepreneurial enterprises from casinos to a country bar called Stoney’s Rockin’ Country, often a sponsor for his two drivers, and a jazz Italian restaurant named Vic’s Las Vegas.

His love of racing never changed though, as he stated, “It’s kind of like riding a bike, only faster.”

The 2023 season is different for him, though. Rather than continue running regularly in the West, Lowden chose to expand the team to two full-time entries. Reif pilots the No. 41 and RJ Smotherman pilots the No. 46.

Additionally, Reif pilots the No. 41 full-time in the ARCA Menards Series East. Budget-permitting, Lowden will field Smotherman in as many East races as possible. The team brings two racecars to each East event. As long as nothing happens to Reif’s primary car, Smotherman will drive the other racecar.

“For us, we don’t necessarily run it as a business,” Lowden added. “It’s more about Tyler. In the next two years, I feel we would be doing him a disservice by not attempting to run the East racetracks this year. Get him the experience and knowledge for running new different tracks and be running with very competitive people. It’s about me putting Tyler in the best position to be prepared to go to the next level.”

Ideally, LJM would like to field Reif full-time in the main ARCA series once he turns 18 in 2025.

But the endeavor is not easy. It’s not cheap to send the whole team to the East races, which stretch from Flat Rock Speedway in southeast Michigan to Dover Motor Speedway.

“Logistically, it’s a lot,” Lowden admitted. “Traveling back and forth […] that’s two sets of cars.”

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Ever the racer, Lowden served as the jackman in the East race at Five Flags Speedway.

As a result of the expansion, Lowden increased the team’s fleet of racecars. LJM has six ARCA cars with one more on the way. Over the offseason, the team bought three Fords from TRICON Garage, formerly David Gilliland Racing. It was an easy decision.

“If you want to win, you look at everything,” Lowden said. “From an equipment standpoint, DGR had some of the best ARCA cars. There was an opportunity with it getting out of ARCA for us to pick up some equipment and we did.”

Among the fleet is also an old John Wood-owned car, that Lowden described as “great.” Smotherman will drive that car at All-American Speedway, Madera Speedway and Shasta Speedway. Although the team runs Fords, the team has no manufacturer support.

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It is a smaller team with a few individuals working in the shop daily. Team crew chief Tony Jackson, who has a longstanding relationship with Lowden, his brother Matt Jackson and father Dave Jackson are there every day. A few others help out, including Smotherman who is there daily.

Lowden’s expectations for the team in the East and West differ.

“In the West, we have the right equipment, the right team, the right drivers and we are certainly a contender for the championship,” he said. “This weekend [at Irwindale Speedway] will be a telltale sign to see how we do in Irwindale. And the West we’re familiar with. I feel like all the pieces are in place for the West championship.”

After the West opener at Phoenix, Reif leads the points. By the way, the Phoenix trophy is at the shop. Lowden is having another one made so Reif can keep the original.

Meanwhile, Smotherman’s No. 46 unfortunately was beset by a clutch issue, so he parked his car after 26 laps.

On the East, Lowden has tempered the expectations due to LJM’s inexperience at those racetracks.

“The East is going to be a little more difficult because we never have been to any of those racetracks,” Lowden said. “So it’s all new for us. We don’t have previous data, we don’t have history, we can learn from the sim, we can talk to people and ascertain what we should roll out of the trailer with but at the end of the day, experience counts. The East is going to be challenging, to say the least.”

In the East season opener at Five Flags, Reif finished two laps down in sixth whereas Smotherman came home ninth, seven laps down.

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“Nobody on the team had ever been there,” Lowden said. “We watched it on TV, we talked to people who had been there. We just showed up and tried to figure it out. It was a little trying. I wish we could have at least gone down and tested. That would’ve been great. It’s not the same as on TV.

“We have a simulator. The kids are on the sim, me and some of the other guys were on the sim trying to do the best we could to figure it out. I’m proud of the boys. They kept the cars out of trouble. The No. 41 found a little bit of speed, just not enough. Look forward to maybe going back.”

Winning both the East and West championships will not be easy.

Lowden has adjusted from the driver to the team owner role, albeit with nervous energy akin to a football coach pacing the sidelines during a game.

“It’s funny,” he added. “When you’re racing, I’m not nervous. Driving’s easy. When it was just me, Tony Jackson, we loaded up and went racing. For me, it’s a Zen moment to be in the racecar. That’s the only thing I focus on. When you’re a car owner, I’m pacing a little bit more. It’s definitely a little bit more nerve-wracking. I’m sure I’ll get past that at some point. But I’m switching radios back and forth listening to each guy, watching and trying to be patient.”

Lowden still has his eye on climbing back into one of his racecars. He might compete in the second West race at Irwindale on July 1, likely in the new racecar.

With two teenagers driving the racecars, Lowden and the team have a new goal: to help facilitate the two drivers’ careers.

“We at Lowden Jackson Motorsports have a lot of fun, first and foremost,” Lowden said. “We all have a lot of racing history but we all want to have a good time. We’re here to have fun and be successful.

“For the next two years, I don’t look at it so much as running a business and be financially successful – that would be great – but that’s not the primary focus. The primary focus is these kids and giving them the best we can to make them as successful as we can to help them follow their dreams. And potentially make a career out of it too.”

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

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