It’s a bit ironic that professional NASCAR racecar driver Alex Bowman nearly failed his driver education course in high school.
That’s because the 19-year-old, who attended Ironwood Ridge High School until midway through his junior year, was rarely in class – he was out doing what he loved, and what would soon thereafter become his profession. He was racing.
By the time he was seven years old, Bowman was racing at the quarter midget racetrack in Marana, a hobby that soon became an obsession. Making his way through the Sprint Car Midget Racing and ARCA circuits in his later years, Bowman was eventually accepted into NASCAR in 2011.
And, where he may have missed an assignment or two in high school, Bowman learned perhaps the most invaluable lesson of his life during those years, and upon a return visit to his former stomping grounds, he shared that advice with students of teacher Tim Holle’s driver education class.
“Chase your dreams,” said Bowman. “Do what you guys love. I went to school here, and I was all about racing and I got laughed at a lot for it. People didn’t think it was achievable to go to NASCAR and do what I’m doing now.”
It seems Bowman has earned the last laugh.
In his most recent race at the season opener at Daytona, Bowman placed third after narrowly navigating his way around a multi-car crash. Forced off the course momentarily, Bowman recovered, but his diagonal angle as he crossed the finish line carried his car head first into the track wall.
Asked by one student what was going through his mind at that moment, the mild-mannered Bowman grinned slightly.
“I was thinking ‘This is going to hurt,’ and it did,” he said. “I hit the wall at about 185 miles per hour. My knee and arm are still hurting.”
The topic was a perfect leeway for Bowman to discuss safe driving, one of the reasons for his visit to Ironwood Ridge last week.
“Being on the road is more dangerous than being on the racetrack,” Bowman told the students. “Those racecars are pretty safe. I survived a 185-mile-per-hour crash, but most people won’t survive a 90-mile-per-hour crash in a street car.”
Bowman, who finished his high school education online, stressed that while it is tempting for high-school-aged students to be a rowdy drivers, it is always best to keep priorities in order when taking to the road.
“You have to stay safe,” he said. “The law is the law, and you should follow it.”
The topic of safe driving is one that hit too close to home for Bowman not long ago.
“Two years ago in August, my best friend got killed by somebody that was texting and driving,” said Bowman. “I know everybody wants to text all the time, but that’s definitely something that is extremely dangerous. Paying attention while driving is huge. No text message that you can possibly send is worth costing somebody his life.”
No doubt Bowman keeps his friend in the back of his mind when taking to the track, and he’s taking to the track quite a bit these days. The opening Daytona race was Bowman’s fifth Nationwide Series race, and he earned more wins in the Automobile Racing Club of America than any other driver last year – quite the accomplishment for his young age.
In fact, Bowman, who joked that he “looks like he is 12,” had some people – including other professional racers - raising their brow early on over his age.
“When I got to the Nationwide Series, people were like, ‘Who is this?’” said Bowman. “Even the security guards were like, ‘Do you have a pass? Are you old enough to get in here?’ It’s pretty crazy. I think I’ve gained respect with my finishes and resume now.”
Holle, who hopes to see his students chase and achieve their dreams in similar fashion, said he was honored to have Bowman return to speak in his class.
“It’s just like he said – it’s about chasing your dream,” said Holle. “When we would talk about it, his eyes would just light up for racing.”
Bowman’s excitement about the profession hasn’t diminished one bit, nor does the young driver feel intimidated when he goes up against “big name racers.”
“I wouldn’t enter a race if I didn’t think I could win,” he said. “It’s about working hard and chasing your dreams.”