In the parking lot of a busy Safeway supermarketÂ sits a go-kart trackÂ just waiting for children, who have begged their parents, to give it a try.Â
To many, this track was just something to have fun with while mom and dad bought the weekly groceries. For a young Michael McDowell, it was a chance.
Years before McDowell became a driver in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, he had to beat his dad in front of thatÂ Safeway to earn his very first go-kart.Â Â Â
Growing up in the Valley, motorsports began as a hobby for the Glendale native and a way to spend some quality time with his family. Over time, McDowell found himself growing moreÂ competitive as he began to move up the ranks of auto racing.Â
“I wasn’t super serious at first and then racing happened,” McDowell said at a fan appreciationÂ event at Scottsdale’s Octane Raceway on Tuesday. “You win your first race,Â then you want to win a championship, and then you want to win a state championship and then you keep moving.”Â
As McDowell kept moving, so did time. Now that the 34-year-old is well-established on the NASCARÂ circuit, he always looks forward to coming back to race at ISM Raceway and showing his support to the community that gave him his start.Â
“This being a hometown race means a lot to me,” McDowell said.Â “The fan support is incredible and the support they have for the race track is awesome. It is important to be here and support my hometown.”
In 2018, that fan support was seen in large numbers as ISM Raceway hosted its first NASCAR weekend after its long-awaited $178 million renovation. With motor sports recently facing a decline in viewership,Â the fan support mightÂ have surprised some, but not McDowell.Â
NASCAR’s Michael McDowell hosted a fan appreciation event Sept. 24 at Octane Raceway in Scottsdale. (Courtesy ISM Raceway) Arizona Republic
“We have such great fans and Iâm not just saying that because Iâm here,” McDowell said.Â “Iâm saying that because Iâve been to a lot of race tracks across the nation and this consistently has the best crowd.Â So when they got the opportunity to renovate I really felt like this is what the fans deserve.â
The Octane Raceway event featured a Q&A with McDowell and former NASCAR driver Casey Mears, followed by two hours of racing action where ISM Raceway fans tested their skills against NASCAR drivers on the high-speed go-kart track.Â
Although Phoenix plays host to two NASCAR weekends every season,Â representing Arizona and its fans is something McDowellÂ doesn’t take for granted.
“Having your state represented in the largest form of motor sports at the highest level is cool. That is something that motorsports doesnât quite have like stick-and-ball sports,” McDowell said. “If you look in the garage at different drivers, theyâre all from different places. Recognizing (that there are drivers from Arizona) I think is the biggest thing. The fact that there are only two drivers from Arizona definitely is a benefit for us and (the fans) can support their local drivers.âÂ
The other Arizona driver is Tucson’s Alex Bowman, who is currently sitting just off the cutoff to advance to the second round of the Cup playoffs. Four of the original 16 playoff drivers will be eliminated inÂ Sunday’s race at Concord, N.C.
McDowell and Bowman will get their next chance to race in front a hometown crowdÂ when ISM RacewayÂ hosts the BluegreenÂ Vacation 500, NASCAR’sÂ semifinal race, on Nov. 10.Â
–NASCAR announced the dates for the 2020 season, which will bring NASCAR’s championship weekend to ISM Raceway for the first time. The spring Cup race will be March 8 at 12:30 p.m. on Fox. The championship weekend schedule starts with the Gander Outdoors Truck Series final Nov. 6 at 6Â p.m. on FS1; the Xfinity Series race is set forÂ Nov. 7 at 2Â p.m on NBCSN; and the Cup championship will be Nov. 8 at 1Â p.m. on NBC.Â
–ISM Raceway announced that tickets for the 2020 spring raceÂ are on sale now, available at ISMRaceway.com, by calling 866-408-7223)Â or by visiting the track ticket office during regular business hours. Those are also the methods fans can purchase tickets to the upcoming Nov. 8-10 race weekend.
For story ideas, contact Christopher HowleyÂ via email atÂ email@example.com. Follow Christopher on Twitter atÂ @howley_chris.