“My dad owned a used car lot and a body shop when I was a kid,” says the 25-year-old native of Tucson, Arizona. “I grew up working in that body shop."
Now, years later and a world away from working for his dad after school, Bowman is the driver of the No. 88 Camaro ZL1 for Hendrick Motorsports in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The dream ride is the culmination of years of toil, his talent and dedication finally paying off when he was tapped to take over for Dale Earnhardt Jr. after the most popular driver’s retirement in 2017.
The gravity of taking over that car, and of driving for Rick Hendrick, is not lost on the young driver.
“Everywhere else I’ve been has been a small team, low budget, just trying to make it and everything,” Bowman says on a late September morning in the middle of the massive Hendrick campus, still looking for the right words to describe what it means to be a Hendrick driver. “This is such a prestigious organization and a historic organization. [They have] so many wins and cool stuff that they’ve done. Mr. Hendrick is a legend.”
For Bowman, the opportunities afforded him as a genuine Chevrolet enthusiast and a member of Team Chevy are an added benefit.
“I’ve always liked Camaros and Corvettes, and being able to work with Chevrolet and do things like go to the Milford proving grounds and drive the new ZR1 and ZL1 1LE and stuff like that is so cool,” Bowman says. “Just to kind of share that car-guy passion with so many people is pretty neat.”
Bowman is a fan of all vehicles from domestics to imports, and he’s long had a rotating crop, starting in high school, joking he’s been “car poor” ever since.
“I’ve always liked Camaros and Corvettes, and being able to work with Chevrolet and do things like go to the Milford proving grounds and drive the new ZR1 and ZL1 1LE is so cool.”
Driving for Hendrick Motorsports also provided him with the opportunity to purchase one of his favorite cars: a 2010 Corvette ZR1.
Bowman explains that he spotted the car in one of the Hendrick Automotive showrooms prior to the team’s Christmas party at the end of 2016. He bought it completely stock and had it lowered the first night it was in his possession. Before long a variety of engine modifications turned the sleek black vehicle --which was stout to begin with -- into an incredibly potent machine.
Bowman says the ZR1, which runs on ethanol, made around 870 horsepower after the upgrades. Some more cooling modifications allowed for more timing and now it makes over 900 horsepower at the rear tires along with 840 lb-ft of torque.
“It’s an absolute monster; it’s a really fun car to drive,” Bowman says.
“It’s an absolute monster; it’s a really fun car to drive.”
While Bowman had always been a Corvette fan, it was a competitor’s C6 Grand Sport that inspired him to purchase his own.
“I drove that car and I fell in love with how the C6 drives, how comfortable they are and how practical they are,” Bowman says. “You can see out of them really well. They’re wide, but they’re not that big of a car, you can get them in and out of places. They just drive well. So I knew I liked C6s.”
He even has been challenged to a Corvette grudge race by team owner Rick Hendrick, who himself is the owner of a 1,100-horsepower C6 trimmed out for drag racing. He claims the two are racing for titles.
Today the other Chevrolet vehicles in Bowman’s fleet are a Tahoe RST edition in which he hauls his dogs Finn (a black lab) and Roscoe (a beagle/chow mix), along with a Silverado 3500 HD dually with which he hauls his Midget race cars, vehicles he grew up racing and working on in Arizona. In fact, he recently got his CDL to transport those machines.
Bowman is self-deprecating and funny, noting how racing was never thought of as being cool when he was growing up in Arizona, but in high school his peers began to appreciate his talents for driving and mechanical work.
“When everybody got driver’s licenses I didn’t become cool by any means, but I gained way more friends all of a sudden,” he says.
His knowledge of the inner workings of a race car and his passion for working on cars, in general, serves a benefit on-track as well.
“I think for me the biggest thing that helps is just my mechanical background, building my own race cars and all that,” Bowman explains. “So I think that helps me communicate with [crew chief] Greg [Ives] a little better.”
He has a quiet confidence and high expectations, and will not be satisfied until his team wins some races. He believes his No. 88 team has found additional speed as the season enters its final quarter and is happy with the progress, but not content.
Fortunately, thanks to driving for Hendrick he has a wealth of knowledge to lean on. It comes from teammate and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, the legendary Jeff Gordon, and countless others. But while some might feel pressure from being around such individuals, Bowman simply sees it as an opportunity.
“I just kind of take it as an opportunity to learn,” he says.“I just try to be a sponge around guys like Jimmie and Jeff. There’s so much knowledge here that if I can just take little bits and pieces from everybody I think it will help for sure.”
“I just try to be a sponge around guys like Jimmie and Jeff."
His Corvette already proves he is a perfect fit.
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