Ep. 117 | Michael McDowell
Hey everyone welcome to the Ray Suharto's podcast. I'm your host Kelly Crandall. On today's show is Michael McDowell of front row motorsports. Our conversation didn't really have one set direction. We covered a few different areas. And I did that on purpose to tell you the truth. Michael has always been someone I've enjoyed chatting with. He's engaging entertaining has a diverse racing background. He's made a lot of starts now in the Cup series over the last thirteen years and he's kind of experienced a little bit of everything so for this conversation. I wanted to ask a few questions that I've thought about for quite a while. Such as how does he feel about his place in the sport? Somebody who has a long tenure here but knows that when he goes out cleats every week a chance to win is not always going to be there so I appreciate it his honest answer on that we also discuss virtual learning Michael. Of course being a father We look back on how the season started for his number thirty four team and even dig into I racing of course at the big thing over this hiatus and that includes a fun story on how front row has guys over. There had to make him a sim rig so he could participate in the pro invitational series. That you've been watching the last couple of weeks on Fox fun conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Here is Michael McDowell on the racing writers podcast over there in the McDowell household. How are you spending your time now? Yeah we're good I mean it's it's challenges the probably the the homeschooling the schooling virtual schooling. Whatever you WANNA call it is probably the hardest just because we have three kids that are actively doing it from eighteen. Whatever you WANNA call in. They have eating conferencing and they have you know all these different things going on. And so there's a lot of noise and there's a lot of things happening am all at once. That part's figures. Challenging was just through all the school union coming to organize all the conferences and virtual chance and setting up. I feel like an IT person here lately you sound everybody connected and getting everything functioning and being able to turn in assignments and obviously it's a cross us to for the rules well because this is the first time they've had to do it so we've been lots of hiccups in lots of trying patient times. I it's funny you bring that up because I have a much younger sister who is also doing the virtual learnings. I was GONNA ask just kind of how that's gotta be so weird for everybody. I can't imagine it's one of those things where it's like. Oh parents are suddenly remembering how much they don't know it's been a process for sure. Well again I appreciate you taking the time. I'm sure that the first four races at this point probably feel like they were a year ago. Probably feels like it was many many moons ago. Yeah definitely I mean. Even though it's only been a couple weeks feel feels like it's in a really long time. Does anything stand out from those four races? Michael was we look back real quick as we look back at Daytona. Fontana Phoenix. Does anything. Stand out from your team. You guys have going on over at front row kind of how you started the season. I think that you know. Probably the thing. That steamboat racing. Always your last one right. You know. It's one that matters. So Phoenix was good as far as building and build some confidence and get back on track and so we were excited about just trying to create that momentum and and keep the moment going that we have. Daytona was okay. Went fine got a decent result but not the result we wanted and then Vegas. We had a mechanical failure in kind of all starting to spiral a little bit downhill and then being able to have a little bit of a steady nice round. Get a good finish and kind of build off of that so here we we were ready to land and silent about it and obviously just like everybody. We're adjusting to our new normal now phoenix. Of course there was a lot of excitement over what was old is new again when it comes to the package. How did that feel from your perspective kind of going back to something that was similar to what we had a few years ago in two thousand eighteen yeah? I thought the racing was getting. I thought the Taller fof was in. There was more side-by-side racing and I thought that the you know the truck did a good job with the PJ one and felt like it had its place and it worked well and thought the racing trout kilos was pretty good. We had a little baby issue early on in fights crackle way back to get back on the left and the lucky dog spot and we were able to do that. Where in the past him? You just get stuck behind people and you couldn't pass and you could really Make moves and we were able to come back to room. Get Lucky dog in against you'll get back on task cars at the end so there is more positive more opportunity for sure definitely seemed like it was a good direction for our the sport to go as they tried to kind of reevaluate the short tracks and the road courses. Do you think that they kind of hit on it and and went in a direction? Yeah absolutely you don't think the proof is in you just the race that we had at Phoenix and obviously we'll have more to kind of compare and judge off but yeah I mean I'm very confident. This is the right direction for both. Of course Jansher retracts. It definitely will produce a better show than what we had at. Those places like front row obviously has a little bit of a different. Look this year with John. Hunter now being full-time and the truck program with todd both those guys are young near the veteran. Now of the program. Does that seem? We're to you. Do you like being in that position to be able to help the younger drivers if they come to you. You know part of my kind of my racing history and background was always been intervening coaching. And and that's kind of how I was able to get through the first few levels of motorsports early on so that's kind of ingrained in me working at the ball and run school as an instructor and then helping guys that were younger than me. Come up through the different series so that part is fun. I enjoy it. You know right now. I'm not doing a whole lot is probably the reverse. It's the young is trying to teach me how I race and so yeah I'm on the opposite side of experience right now. Yeah before we're done talking. I'm definitely wanted to throw some stuff your way in general though when when you hear veteran when people consider you like me consider you a veteran when you think about how you've made starts in the cup series for the past thirteen years I mean. Does that stand out. Does that feel weird? Does it feel like you've been around that long Yes and no so definitely definitely have been around that long and there's moments that feel like that but you know a lot of those. I caught four or five. Years was starting parts just trying to hang on for dear life outdoing forces at Containing for you really pointing putting in full seasons swatted. Those were per shells. Sydell feel like the last five years or maybe it's been more. Maybe it's been six whenever I went full time with L. Afar since it's felt more like you know real and full-time experience but all those races before that still played a part in that you're able to learn a lot and and probably more than anything just mental innocent work that game. You're just putting a lot into it. Truly make the most of every moment knowing that for a long time. I didn't even have a shot at those. So at this point as we're talking with racing on hiatus your number is kind of a nice Round full number. It's three hundred and twenty five in the Cup series. Yeah what would you say has been your biggest accomplishment or maybe your best highlight so far in the cup series. I mean my island. Having three run on twenty-five START I mean I hate to say that but if you if you could zoom out and look at my whole journey it's been extremely difficult one to stay in the sport and so to me are the biggest accomplishment in regards to the fact that I'm still here and still competing and I'm in a better situation now than I've ever been. It's continuing got better and better better at aren't so that part is rewarding. Just knowing that there's a lot of those years and consular it was truly a grind just to get to the racetrack can still be here. Still have an opportunity and be competitive. Probably the the thing that's most rewarding to me but regards to results. I think they is probably you know last year haven't offering their consistently earning top in Benson highlights. Ernie drivers are always chasing something right. You're always chasing the next race. The you know the next result next accomplishment you know when it comes to that Michael. Are you somebody that even though you're constantly trying to succeed and accomplish something in this sport do you have to remind yourself at all to enjoy what you're doing or is that not a problem for you? Is it just natural that you know you love what you do you get to do this or do you? Sometimes you have to slow yourself down and take again the effort in the results in what's going on on the racetrack away and just say hey. I'm still getting to do this. Balance is hard. I I think early on start rookie year. Micro-entrepreneurs did not enjoy it at all the experience and the opportunity. I was just so overwhelmed with the pressure in trying to get results and not getting results in just I missed all the you know the opportunities to take in how cool it is to raise at the brick yard for the first time or your race underlines of Bristle for the first time that's cool moments that you not. Everybody has the opportunity to do it so early on. I missed it and now feel like I enjoy the moment more and enjoy the opportunities more always look forward to distract like when Thursday rose ran on on on on. You know that I get the deal. It's a new leak in a fresh start and for me like you talked about. There's always a goal in the goal is for me is to win race. I mean it's Super Plain and simple is yet to be in. This series is long and has many racist. That has you know for me. It's very important to win race and CEO knowing that saw an opportunity for us every weekend. But it's always there you know you just never know is. Um keep the motivation there and then the other part about NASCAR that I love is if it's not this week it's next week if it's not the next week hits the following weekend so you just keep going keep growing And he keeps having a fresh early new opportunity that every week. You acknowledge that winning a race is not something for front row. That will come around every weekend. Are you comfortable with your place in the sport in that regard to where you can still go out you get results for what your team in this case front row can do? You're not a guy that many people would say. Rex racecars or gets himself in trouble. Are you comfortable being that guy being able to deliver for a front row or do the what ifs? Come up sometimes where you think. Well what if I ever had an opportunity to get into a car like a gibs or a Hendrick or a penske no? I'm very comfortable in front real. I'm not comfortable with our results. We're all pushing hard to get. Put ourselves position where we can appoint opportunities that winning and running top fifteen and I think on that note to is with it on a good direction with Got Better and better each year and we know the you know the the six or seven races that we have every year to have a chance at winning in China. Semis a lesson. You always want to win races. You always wanted to try to challenge for championships. I mean as you don't think about it and when you see guys like Alex Bowman and and Deon probably one or two more that were in a very similar situation by men are having success. Actually is rewarding. It's it's it's fun to see them have success because it wasn't that long ago that Alex Bowman was getting fired from Tommy Baldwin racing and being replaced a Regan Smith now winning races eighty eight and you know Matt d driver on divine and whatever he could get in and just trying to make the most of tough situation and now he's in a gray seed has not prepaid it when races and running game so to me. It's I I enjoy being front row. I want to help him win races. I want to help grow it bill. I'm thankful for the opportunity so too far off or really do that for me. I wish this or that I destroy the night most of the situation. My confidence is also high knowing where those guns were out and what they're doing you always think like you put me in that opportunity and I'd be able to win and you always have that belief it's good to see other guys actually proving this is your third year Michael With front row. What has made it easier to settle in with them. Make a home there with Bob Jenkins and everybody I think two things one is. Bob And I had a relationship prior to museum for him. You know there's I did one race for him in the past that walk INS Gleam in two thousand. I don't know you'd have to look it up. Maybe thirteen or fourteen eighty even earlier. I don't know early on and got the test and do some things and it was fun and we ran well and didn't get a good result at a part failure but Since that point on stay closed when we talk racetrack and you just talked over the years and so I had a pretty friendly relationship with Bob. Prior driving for him. So I'm part was easy an dame Reagan being their same thing David. I've been friends for years and you know away from the racetrack. And so him being there it kind of an easy transition for me because I kept feed run quickly with people and what's happening and he did us down how things work in. But you know for the in that first year with MWR always been with smaller teams. And so I feel very comfortable in those settings. I liked being shot on my talk to the guys. I like being able to actually know all the guys I mean. It's hard when you have a you know three four five hundred Eagle so. I've always been sort of comfortable on those settings and feel like it's not as corporate and you can be yourself and say. Oh yes you know front row has been great for me and and you know I think right now you know. There's a lot changing in our sport even as we're not racing here of whether or not this new cars can come when it's going to come all of those things that we were about so a lot of unknowns for all of us and hopefully we can weather. The storm as a team was group in a UP. Some highlights this year and in China to keep building momentum. Going back to looking at things from a bigger picture. The sport overall again mentioning. How long you've been doing this when it comes to offering feedback. You mentioned things like the new car in the way that the the direction the sport is going when drivers are offering feedback or NASCAR comes to drivers and Wants to kind of gather. What the mood of the Garages Are you? Somebody that The longer you've been in the sport you have found yourself you know. Speaking and ask are offering feedback. Are you somebody? That's willing to let them know what you think or do you keep more to yourself and just kinda watch to see what they do. Well I mean I'm fairly in engaged and so we've always been that way for me. I think that I like being a part of it but I also feel like these. Decisions are really important because it affects the overall health of the sport and I feel like I have a pretty good perspective because of where I'm at in the sport of not being I've been on the bottom. I've seen what it looks like at the very top. In the way that those teams operate from a distance or from close in right now I would say for us. I mean that kind of a medium sized team and two car operation. We're not run out of small team binding. And so I think I have a pretty good perspective of of reality of what it looks from both perspectives of of the sport or from all perspectives of it. So I always try to put it in my input but I also know that the more popular drivers are GonNa have a larger way on things like that But I'm also pretty engaged with all that you know making sure that those guys understand that. Hey we get you want this for you and your group but this time to fix the other half of the field young and so I always try to make sure that there's a little bit about about. Do you think. Overall the sport is good about something like that. I've heard that a few times when you talk to guys on the other side of the garage so to speak. Are you start going further down the leaderboard? You know they say the same things you know. Sometimes people need to remember that we have to look at not. Just what's good for the bigger guys? Or what their opinion is. But you have to remember the guys that are doing it differently. Do you like Nascar better over the years at understanding and listening to those folks absolutely. I think it's changed tremendously. Yeah I think just the dialogue in general is way more open now than it's ever been and that's been a process that's happened over the last four or five years and you know some of it was forced early on West. Rta and some of those things that kind of squash month insane and driver councils and all that stuff. But I feel like now. It's more of a working relationship. Then it's ever band and there's a lot of communication happens and it's pretty good on all those fronts and yeah. I think that you know when I first got there is kind of like. Hey you don't talk and don't say anything was the information that I got now. It's different more lot more dialogue happening for sure. Yeah one more thing before switched some. Ira Sing Talk. Because I'm very curious. Get your thoughts on that is I. Wanted to ask kind of another broad question. You of course have done open-wheel Grand Dam Arca a little bit of everything in Nascar. What is your favorite Carter? Dr Or maybe you're the fate of one of your most favorite races that you've gotten to compete in. Yeah I would say in two thousand five. I got to do a few champ car. Indycar races and Yeah do those cars and in that time in that era. Were just awesome you. They were fire breathing. Dragons young close to a thousand horsepower and turn with charged and no track. Trolling Electron IX. That goes has ship but it wasn't a paddle. And so yeah. So those were the purest fastest coolest thing I've ever driven for sure and I guess a couple of race in Australia. Surfers Paradise and kind of a fun fact He. I've made my gave you the same weekend that that will power. Willpower had a pretty successful after that. I think I'd beat You Buy yes. We just do that those couple of weeks that I got to do. The INDYCAR deals a lot of fun. I raised Mexico. City in Indycar in a prototype are one the prototype operation than randy which was a cool weekend. So that's probably long memories and appear driving aspect of an indycar without much. Power was a lot of fun. Fire breathing dragons. I believe that's unique all right so let me get your thoughts here on some. Ira sing stuff. I know you've kind of been thrust into the fire as I'm sure many others right now that this has come up. Did you have any experience before like had you ever run? I racing before. Yes Sir I have and I. I wouldn't say I have a lot of experience but I have a decent amount. It was a long time ago so when I first got into Nascar you know being a you know road race open-wheel Sports Car Guy. I didn't know any of the tracks. Didn't know ovals at all I hadn't been to any short-track hadn't done any of that so I got into. You know just whatever we want to call it. Online racing virtual racing and there is I racing came on the scene maybe maybe a year or two after I I started but I you know so I had a lot of time. That was before kids and everything else I had to set up at my house and I would play at five or six hours a day but that was twelve years ago right so A law has changed since then and obviously Irene since a tremendous job I answer super impressed with the fact that they have on vehicles in your son people on a really great job with it boom it. You know. It's something that is not easy to get the speed really quickly and the level that were turned to against the guys. We're trying to do with say yes. So it's definitely been a challenge in you know it's a little bit of a mix like. I'm excited that I have something to do and Cerez and I'm excited that we get some exposure for sponsors and our sport and keeping Santa Getting all. I think it's really good stuff. But the other side of it is is a tremendous time commitment to be good at it and people talk about well the level playing field and you everybody has the same color in one hundred percent true but at the same time the guys that are successful right now the guys that have like thousands of races and enduring it consistently for love or secure. So there's these little nuances to it that make it a challenge. Just like him. It'd be a challenge if you're were a virtual racer in the Ashley had to go unload at Bristol for the first time and drive a real car so it's definitely something to put a lot of time to which allergy to do away from it does have a family her long things happening. You have a lot of commitments as a driver already phone shop and climb out for interview Ian Sponsorship Obligations To. He'll keep playing for four or five hours. Be really responsible were now. It's easier to do because we're stuck here. The sponsor aspect is really really interesting because especially with those races being picked up by Fox. It still away for the sport and for the sponsors to get exposure and I think was really unique is At front row you guys have been able to bring on sponsors and I believe if my understanding is correct. You're actually bringing on a sponsor for Bristol as we talk this weekend. The Bristol race is that correct well so think that it is unique in. We've had love's travel stops the car who these folks two weeks. Obviously there are private sponsors majority of the season when you wanted to make sure that we could give them as much as exposures can't especially with Hanging anything going on the release fat but only been working on Schuch Lewis with Celsius over the last few months in something that hopefully will turn out just to virtual awesome but a real sponsor which were working really close later date but says exciting. New Boys Bristol into yet suggest during a news new sponsor into the sport and to have a survey more than anything. It's just it's a great starting point. It's an opportunity for the And be able to get exposure and help build their brand built the product using the teen years. And so it's something. I've really worked hard on because of such a big supporter. What they're already doing it healthy lifestyle just living fit and take care of yourself in having energy and that focus so to really good brand for us to be partnered with and we're excited to you. The car this weekend at Bristol super excited that I've locked into the race. He's to real tough on the qualifying. Yeah well hopefully will continue to grow this relationship and partnership poured a few more things for you. Michael one of the things again that stood out with this whole. Ira Sing thing. Is You posted on twitter? That front row actually made you your own rig right because you weren't able to get one. How did the how did that go? What goes into making a rig. Look yeah a lot of work. Yes Obliquely the whole story. So you know the the team. Coming up Auditing foes Cosette. Like this happen. He needed the police. I'm like yeah sure looked of familiar. Regan will be really go grab. It wasn't that easy. We borrow David yellows on rig the first week and I just went for his shall at his shop sewing basically got zero practice year. Just because of the fact that they're shoplift shutdown just like At the time it wasn't mandatory but they were already shut down and so I had to have somebody come. Let me in you know. Do all those things and I had to have somebody babysitting me the whole time. So it was you know. I just didn't get a lot of practice in so my cave. You want me to suck this. I'm going to need to like be able to practice and So I started calling all the manufacturers that make us different rigs but we were two weeks behind. Because you know we we just behind instead of people that already dot up all their inventory. How the Larson's home? The everybody in their brother had bought out everybody systems and so. I couldn't really find anything could find anything. Turn key race engineer at front road. He had already ordered some pedals wheels for himself and he had a computer at his house. And he's like well just dinner. Sow Sledge's welded chassis. And we'll see we'll just do it ourselves and All easier said than done but yeah the front row is my my thirty four crew. Did build a chassis and We got everything set up and right before everything got shut down. We were able to get to my house and finished building a house worth realign the glitches and things like that but by Friday of last week I had one set of her house and was able to practice a little bit more and we ran. Texas stood in. Now that I've had more time hopefully run better bristol than I did it Texas so but yeah really thankful that they're able to do that and one of my house mall shut up and so however long. I'm stuck here I'll be able to drive another funny thing that you tweeted was when it came to Texas. You said well if I flip virtually it won't hurt and I appreciate it the humor in that but it made me think. Obviously that was a moment. Many people will always remember. Is it something that fans still ask you about? Oh yeah all the time. Yeah I mean it's for sure it's something that fans remember and Yeah it's just one of those moments that I think that you know I certainly won't forget and and most people that watch during that time or were there don't and you know it doesn't bother me either. It's not like there's like two sides of it is one is it doesn't make. It's not embarrassing for you know. It's not something that I'm like. I don't WanNa talk about because if you raise long enough you're gonNA crash in a normal. You don't do it by yourself but it happens and the other side of it is that you know to me to be able to walk away from it and to still be here whatever. It is thirteen years racing. doesn't define my career either right like if I'd be everybody's highlight but I lost thirteen years after that off of being able to do my job well and get the most out of whatever situation I've been in so doesn't like haunt me or or make me feel embarrassed about it or or I don't WanNa talk about it right. Yeah it's good. You just take it in stride right. Yeah Yeah all right Michael. Let me get you out of here. One last question circling back around to our real racing when we get back on track whenever that may be do you know when I don't I wish I did. In my optimism. Optimism balloon has been popped really. Yeah so when we get back to racing when you go from competing for a couple of weeks competing for a month and then you have an unexpected hiatus. Do you think you'll have like some rust to knock off or will it just be like kind of coming out of the off season? What what do you expect? The feeling will be like when we go back racing after an unexpected and an undetermined amount of time. Unlike where when you have an off weekend or you have off season. You know you can prepare you know when you're going to be racing again. How different will it be to jump back in a car after something like this? Well I want to answer that question. Nearly so our sport definitely has a lot of confidence in him as a big equation and that happens throughout the season. Good race last. Wants to change all those all those things get better salts. Rust Call Rust. I think that we've lost along with them. That feel that you want to build up on those things asked Palestine and go into the off season and you start fresh. But I don't think you'll be rusty. I mean we we go the you know the entire off season and are able to to turn on the light switch and go so. I don't feel like it will be a lot of just getting the skewed that there's a lot of CEO and just not just communication and just flow of practice and everybody will have to work through that again. You know but yeah yeah same for everybody and so we'll see. Who Does the best? It's GONNA be interesting isn't it? We're all going to be Ready to go back racing and it's just going to be interesting when we finally get to do it. Absolutely well Michael. I appreciate the time today. I've enjoyed our chat and good luck with the virtual learning and I hope everybody stays station. Thank you all right as I wrap up this episode. Let Me Express my thanks again to Michael for taking the time to entertain me on the podcast as our racing hiatus continues and thank you as well to Mack Matt Lloyd of Front Row motorsports for coordinating our chat. Before I leave you. I wanted to remind you of a few different podcasts. Go look for deb. Williams podcast racing now and then deb is doing a great job getting her podcast going. It's a couple of years old now so I hope you give it a listen and support deb as she provides everyone with some great racing content. In fact. If podcast what you're looking for I should also tell you about a new one from Kris medlen my racer colleague who covers Formula One. Chris has recently launched the podcast. That is not a podcast podcast. I love the name. I think it's great creativity. So if you're an F. One Fan make sure you follow Kris medlen and go check out his podcast. But of course the guy who continues to put us all to shame with how good he is it everything he does is Marshall Pruitt and other one of my race or colleagues INDYCAR IMSA whatever you may be looking for. Follow Marshall and check out the Marshall Pruitt podcast. Actually I think he has more than one. But don't hold me to that Speaking of my podcast. I've seen some great reviews and ratings and feedback recently so I thank you for that. Please continue to spread the word and I will continue to bring you some fun guests and speaking of guests. We've got good ones coming up. Stephen Tart will be next on our agenda as we catch up with the former crew chief turned NBC sports broadcaster. That was a really really good conversation about how he's doing. During this hiatus and we dig into now what has been a couple years since making that transition from crew chief broadcaster. A lot of good stuff with Steve Catching up with him. But if you want fun and entertaining than you need to go to Brendan Gone Right. Uncle Brennan is also coming up on the PODCASTS. So make sure you and your friends are subscribed. You will not want to miss that. His honesty his fun. Everything as we reflect on his career because he is getting ready to hang up the helmet after the season last couple races for Brennan gone. So that's what's coming up. Thank you for listening. And I'll see you next week. Here on the racing writers podcasts.