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Clint Bowyer discusses decision to retire and move to the TV booth

Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang, announced last week that he will trade his steering wheel for a microphone and transition to the NASCAR On Fox broadcast booth in 2021.  Bowyer, who was eliminated from championship contention on Sunday, joined this week’s Ford Performance Zoom call to talk about his decision and hopes for winning on Sunday at his home track — Kansas Speedway.

CLINT BOWYER, No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang — IS THIS SOMETHING YOU HAD IN MIND AFTER SIGNING YOUR ONE-YEAR DEAL, AND WILL WE SEE MORE OF YOU IN EMPORIA DURING YOUR OFF-SEASON?  “Honestly, you’ll probably see a lot more of me, in general, anyway throughout the first half of the season especially — looking forward to that, got a lot of cool things, some new things we’re gonna see.  As you alluded to, I won’t be in the car, but I’ll be there to call the race, so looking forward to that.  The second half of the season, man, I haven’t even thought about that far.  Obviously, we’ll still have a presence and still be working in the studio and stuff like that for Fox, Race Hub and things like that.  That’s important to me.  It’s not like you just leave and clock out, but it does enable me to take my family on a weekend and, I don’t know, go figure out I guess what normal people do.  It’s been since I was five years old I’ve been in a motorhome at a racetrack somewhere, so to have that opportunity to be able to take our family and do some new things.  Cash has got a new Outlaw kart we’ve been working on.  We’re about done with that.  Looking forward to that and maybe taking him to a motocross track and to a race somewhere.  It’s time to allow somebody else to have fun.”

THOUGHTS ABOUT RETURNING TO KANSAS SPEEDWAY AND WHAT THE AREA HAS MEANT TO YOU.  PLUS, THERE WILL BE SOME FANS ALLOWED, BUT MANY FANS WON’T BE ABLE TO GIVE YOU A PROPER SEND OFF.  “Yeah, it’s 2020, right?  It is what it is.  Is it the perfect time to do all of this?  I don’t think 2020 is the perfect time for anything.  We all wish it was just behind us already, but timing is something.  This opportunity came up.  It was an opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity to stay a part of this sport for many years to come, and that’s the coolest thing about it.  Was I getting close to being ready to get out of the car and start thinking about it anyways?  Yes.  Was there a lot of things that happened this year in the schedule and things like that, where I was away from my family doing this on my own that kind of made that decision a little easier yet?  Yes.  There were a lot of those things, but the fans, the event of a race weekend is something that you just can’t do without.  Obviously, I’m going into TV.  I’m gonna start doing the broadcasts and things like that, but the event itself, the fans in the infield, that’s what you feed off of.  That’s the environment in which you want to go out there and do whatever you can to beat those guys on any given Sunday because of that fuel for the fire that’s burning at those events on any given Sunday.  You can’t replace that and we’ve got to get that back as soon as possible.  I know the NFL is feeling it.  We know firsthand.  We were one of the first, right?  Anybody that’s in the entertainment business is feeling it in a big way.  I mean, my old buddy Blake Shelton, I’ve been on the phone with him more in the last several months here since the pandemic than I have our whole adult lives.  Everybody is longing to get back and be in front of those fans and we’re no exception.  It’s nice that we can have a few.  It’s nice that you’ll feel their presence at Kansas Speedway, but nonetheless it’s not that sea of fans like we’re accustomed to when we come back to a track that’s so special to me.”

DID YOU FEEL LIKE THERE WAS STILL A CHANCE TO REMAIN AT SHR, AND IF YOU TALKED TO OTHER TEAMS WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD TO POSSIBLY DRIVE FOR SOMEONE ELSE OR RETIRE?  “Honestly, I guess the picture just became so much more clear after the weeks went by for me of what to do for myself once the opportunity with Fox came to the table, came to the forefront and was a reality.  Again, that picture was just way more clear to make a decision.  We made the right decision based on a lot of things, and I say we, obviously it’s my butt getting out of the car and doing something different that I’ve never done before, but I have a wife and kids, a brother that’s been by me through it all.  Chip Williams has always been here from Day 1.  Like, literally, Chip and Curtis were my first guys.  Chip was my first PR guy when I was part-time in the Reese’s car at RCR and I hired him at the end of the year and he’s been with me since that day, so through every step of the way Chip and Casey have helped me make the right decisions to keep me in things and once that came to the table, were we working on what’s next?  Yes.  Were we working on what’s next as far as being in a race car?  Absolutely.  Always working with partners.  Always trying to understand, trying to help them make an impact in this sport, not only for the racing side of it, but for their business as well.  That included working with Rusty from Rush and DeKalb and all of our partners, Peak, everybody it would have took to keep me in that race car, but, honestly, once that opportunity came to the table it was pretty clear that that’s what I needed to do and it was an opportunity of a lifetime to stay a big part of the sport for a long time.”

WHY WAS IT WHAT YOU NEEDED TO DO?  WAS IT JUST TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH FAMILY?  WAS IT JUST TIME FROM COMPETITIVENESS?  WHAT WAS THE NEED?  “You literally just checked all the boxes.  Was I ready?  I was getting ready.  I was getting close to being ready.  Was I ready after this pandemic and this Covid year of no fans and a weird way to go out?  No, and I don’t think probably Jimmie Johnson was either, but was I looking for that what’s next moment or opportunity?  And that answer is absolutely yes.  When Fox, and let’s go back to the pandemic, there are always opportunities and crazy things and it’s usually those wild and crazy things in life that open that opportunity.  This pandemic led to that opportunity to get in the studio with Jeff and Mike and have a ton of fun doing those iRacing races that really kind of kept us on the map with our sport and kept our sponsors propped up, kept the business moving, kept it going around in circles.  That was a ton of fun for me and it opened my eyes up in a big way and it was just something that nobody expected that opened the door for this opportunity we took.  So, yeah, it’s all of those things — more time with your family, still being a big part of this sport.  I love being a part of this sport.  I mean, that was so important for me.  I didn’t want to just retire.  If this opportunity with Fox didn’t come to the table, I was going to be in a car somewhere somehow.  I wasn’t gonna just quit and run off into the sunset because I like this sport and I wanted to find my way and a future within it, and luckily this happened.”

WILL YOU BE WIN AT ALL COST THIS WEEKEND AT KANSAS, AND HAVE YOU GOTTEN ANY MAKEUP TIPS FROM JEFF GORDON?  “Oh my gosh.  Makeup is going to be the worst part about all of it, but honestly I never really said this, and I’ve just never been one, I’m an old kid from Kansas — if you’re gonna put makeup on me, it’s gonna take the tackle box anyway.  It’s gonna take everything you’ve got, but I was doing some of those iRacing races and we couldn’t have any makeup or anything in the studio and usually there’s a little girl that does all that for you and I was beet red compared to all of them that had makeup, so I was like, ‘Man, if I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna have to do something here.  I need to get some pointers from my wife or somebody,’ but it’s gonna take all of it — all of the arsenal of makeup to make my ugly ass look good.  I can’t believe you’re actually in Kansas.  As a matter of fact the wind hasn’t blown your hat off your head or anything like that.  That actually gets me excited to go to the speedway this weekend, but I also am from Kansas and realize if it’s 75 and beautiful like it is right now it might be a hurricane or a tornado or a flood by the weekend, but it looks like a cold front is coming in.  That’s gonna mean fast, fast speeds.  Grip levels are probably gonna up.  That’s gonna be good.  That’ll be a premium for putting on a good show for what the fans that we have there.  It’s always fun to come back to Kansas, looking forward to it.  It’s a cool track, special to me.  It’s gonna obviously be more special this time around and we’ll be ready for it.  Coming off a good weekend.  Wasn’t the weekend we wanted.  Wasn’t the finish that I feel like we deserved.  We were extremely fast last weekend, but anytime you have a weekend like that, there’s some pep in your step and an excitement level for not only me, but the rest of our team.”

WERE YOU ALWAYS EXPECTING TO MAKE IT BIG OR DID YOUR SUCCESS SURPRISE YOU?  “Hell no.  I honestly was hoping to make a living racing.  I can say that, and I think that’s a fair goal, but did I ever in a million years think that it would lead to a Zoom call with you.  I look over next to you is Kurt Kelly.  He was there from the beginning and watched me race.  Representing Ford Motor Company for crying out loud.  For most of my career growing up you couldn’t afford a Ford engine and now I’ve got an arsenal full of them at my expense that we get to beat up every single weekend and run up through the gear box.  I’m gonna tell on myself.  I missed a shift this last weekend, something that I pride myself — I don’t do very often on road courses — missed a shift and that thing revved to the moon and I’m like, ‘Damn.  It ain’t gonna make it another half lap.  It’ll be blow’d up.’  That thing ran the rest of the day without a flaw, so just amazing.  Again, you go back to where it came from and see your guys’ faces it reminds you of what we accomplished and we’re very proud of that.”

DO YOU EXPECT TO BE NOSTALGIC WHEN YOU GO BACK TO KANSAS THIS WEEKEND?  “Kansas has a lot of great memories.  My first memory was 2001 sitting on top of a motorhome with a beer in my hand watching Jeff Gordon win the first race.  Now I’m gonna be lining up next to him in the booth next year.  It’s all kind of coming full circle.  It really is weird how life works and it’s still working for me.  Those opportunities are still there.  I wrote that letter in my office a few days ago that I posted and it’s just so real.  It always just seems like it fits.  It’s time.  I think you always, everybody in life, wants to just get by with one more year.  One more year, one more lap, but you might pass by that golden opportunity that was the right opportunity and, for me, it was just way too clear that that was the right opportunity for me and come hell or high water that’s what I needed to do.  But going back to Kansas, looking forward to, again, just putting a cap on a wonderful track.  It’s been a bear for me.  One of my worst tracks.  That sucks so bad.  Like, there’s nothing worse.  Why can’t the Roval be Kansas Speedway?  You know what I mean, or something like that  where I’m good — a short track where I’ve had really good success over the years, but, dammit, it’s not over.  I’m gonna come there and I’m gonna bust their ass this weekend.  I don’t know how I’m gonna do it, but it’s gonna happen.  Write it down.”

HOW DID YOU TRAIN YOURSELF TO BE SO GOOD ON ROAD COURSES?  “For me, it’s a little bit different than as you alluded to Chase or something like that.  Now, it’s such a better picture of where the future is going with this sport and it’s allowing manufacturers, race teams, organizations and stuff like that to invest in that direction for the future of our sport.  We’re starting to see more and more road courses come into play but, for me, it was just being at RCR and school of hard knocks.  I of course had a great teammate with Kevin Harvick, which has run well on road courses over the years, but kind of like Martinsville — nobody is good at Martinsville their first race and then you’ve got to learn from your mistakes and I think that’s something that a dirt racer, and coming from my background, believe it or not, in motocross really helps.  I think my motocross background came in handy last weekend in that rain and stuff like that.  It reminded me of a mud race and motorcross, which, for whatever reason I was good at those, and dry, slick.  As crazy as that sounds, a mud race in motorcross to a really, really dry, slick track in the midwest racing my modified back home it was a lot of horsepower, not much traction and you really had to focus on keeping the tires rolling, and that sounds so obvious, but you do that and not squeezing the throttle just ever so slightly, not smashing it.  Driving those cars that I grew up driving with a lot of horsepower and not much traction, that’s the one thing that that really helped me last weekend do is put that traction down and keep those tires rolling and not slide it with too much input in the wheel or too much input in the brakes or the throttle.  You really had to be gingerly with all of your inputs and I felt like I was as comfortable as probably anybody out there doing that.  I was surprised how much grip the cars had in the rain.  It’s opened my eyes up to some conversation on where to go from there because it certainly went down in a good way.”

DO YOU SEE YOURSELF COMING BACK TO DO A ONE-OFF IN THE FUTURE?  “I’m definitely open for anything.  Hey, you can’t just shut off being a race car driver.  Are there tracks that I wish I never see again?  Yes, but I’m probably gonna see them anyway.  I’m gonna be there calling the races, but certainly there are some tracks that I’m really, really gonna miss.  Those road courses, believe it or not, are right up there.  The short tracks and things like that, those are tracks that I felt like my talent and my experience that I’ve learned over the years were really good at some of those tracks.  I think that if an opportunity comes down the line and somebody was to be out or something like that, I would love to fill in if I could do a good job, and I know I could at some of those tracks, so who knows?  I think we’re just gonna have to see how it all goes and if an opportunity comes to the table, maybe I’ll take it.”

WHAT HAS LED TO THIS GREAT CHEMISTRY BETWEEN YOU AND JEFF GORDON AFTER WHAT HAPPENED A DECADE AGO?  “Here’s one of the funniest things about our rivalry or lack thereof.  People really think there’s more there than there ever was.  We had a couple run-ins in a year where it sucked, but I can tell you that we were always having fun off the racetrack at the year-end events at the playoff banquets and things like that.  He and I would always kind of naturally just flock to one another and want to go out and have fun and Jeff is a fun person.  You may not see it in the broadcast or something like that, but he’s a really, really fun person to go out with and hang out with.  Been around a long time and obviously somebody I looked up to for a long time.  It’s a neat situation to overcome everything that we have and line up right against one another again in that booth is gonna be something that’s pretty special.  I think we saw it already.  We both got to experience it a little bit.  We got our feet wet with the iRacing racing that we did, and I think that we’re gonna enjoy it that much more when we can call these races from our experiences and our perspectives.  Jeff does a great job of that.  Mike Joy, oh my gosh, he’s gonna have his hands full.  Can you imagine being up there trying to be a ringleader, trying to keep Jeff and I arguing the whole race because there’s no way in hell he can be right and there’s no way in hell that I can be right all the time, so it’s gonna be fun to call these races.  The biggest things that are fun that I’m looking forward to is something happens on that racetrack between drivers.  There’s always both sides of a viewpoint and we’re certainly gonna have different views and sometimes we’ll agree and hopefully a lot of times we’ll disagree and that banter is gonna be a lot of fun.”

YOU HAVE BEEN KANSAS CITY’S BIGGEST ADVOCATE YOUR WHOLE CAREER.  HOW MUCH HAS IT MEANT TO BE THE AREA’S REPRESENTATIVE?  “I think it means a lot, first and foremost, and thank you for saying that.  I still to this day, it’s been 16 years I’ve been chasing this sport and this dream, but you still don’t feel like you’re any different than anybody else.  That’s why it’s hard for me to even answer questions like that and take Zoom calls like this because, honestly, for me, I could just go get in the motorhome and be in the infield with the fans and take on that weekend just as easy as I could go in a car and be a part of the show.  As long as you’re there and enjoying what you love, for me, again, that box is checked.  But I’ve always felt like I was at home in Kansas City.  I obviously didn’t grow up in Kansas City, but Kansas City was always that go-to city, and I’ve been on this road for a long time.  I’ve been to every city there is in this country and I still flock to Kansas City.  It’s one of my favorite cities to go to.  You couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to call a place home than Kansas City.  When we roll back in here this weekend it’s always been the go-to destination track for a fan, for the people in the industry.  Everybody, mark my words, my phone will start blowing up Friday night rolling into Saturday.  ‘Hey, Bowyer.  Where do we go?  Where’s the hot spot?’  And it’s always fun to answer those questions and it’s always fun to answer them every year because, for whatever reason, Kansas City has always been able to elevate and it’s been that way my whole adult life.  Every single year you go back to Kansas Speedway there’s something bigger, something better to get a hold of and go see.”

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN THINKING ABOUT MAKING THIS TRANSITION, AND WHAT WILL YOU MISS MOST ABOUT BEING A DRIVER?  “I think I said it a little bit ago, and it’s something that’s really resonated in my mind and just keeps coming up is there’s tracks that I didn’t like going to anymore.  It’s just a fact, but I knew last weekend I was gonna be good at that Roval and I couldn’t wait to get out there.  I didn’t even practice.  I wasn’t worried about nothing.  I knew the track, the race itself because of the rain and everything else, all the preparation, everybody was freaking out.  Oh My God, what do we do?  The windshield wipers.  Covering the radio.  The line.  The rain.  Rain tires.  Oh My God, what are we gonna do about this?  What are we gonna do about that?  I’m like, ‘Who gives a damn?  Let’s go find out.’  It was so much fun.  That’s the way my mentality was when you used to roll into a dirt track because you didn’t know.  You had an idea.  You would roll in and maybe it had been raining for the couple days prior to that, so you know that thing is gonna be locked down, hammer down, wide-open, muddy racetrack, rough probably.  And every now and then the old water truck, the guy would get frisky in the water truck — I don’t know, maybe he had a date night and watered the damn thing too much the night before and ended up in the middle of a dry summer night, it ended up being a mud racetrack.  You always had to be able to adapt and overcome because you never knew the situation and what you’d have for a racetrack, so I think some of that came back to me in that race last weekend, but those are the things that I’m gonna miss is going to racetracks that you know you’re pretty damn good at and sometimes, I’m gonna be proud for a minute, you know that you’re gonna be better than some of those guys out there doing it.  And I know Jeff Gordon.  Could you imagine being Jeff Gordon?  We’re talking about me.  That guy was an animal.  He won everything and I couldn’t imagine what he would think, so, for me, it’s gonna be exciting to get up there and, again, have that banter back and forth with Jeff where, hey, it will be healthy to come across and have that conversation.  ‘Man, buddy, I think we could get out there and rough ‘em up this weekend.  What do you think?’  I think that’s gonna be fun for our viewers.  I think there are things, I’m not a well-spoken person.  I’m not, but I can tell you I’m gonna bring you energy to that booth and I’m gonna give it my all and I’m gonna use my life of racing experience to tell the story and to tell it from my vantage point.  So, I think that will be an interesting take.  I think that’s some of the feedback I’ve enjoyed and gotten and Fox has gotten.  You asked about the opportunity, I didn’t know.  It wasn’t on my radar.  It really wasn’t.  I was wondering what’s next?  What do you do?  Now you start leaning on friends and things.  ‘I saw an investment opportunity come by the other day.  What do you think about this?’  ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Well, I don’t really want to risk a bunch in it.’  I know where I’m at.  I know I’ve got enough  money to live the rest of my life, but if I go jump into bed with a big, risky investment or something, you might lose it all.  These are all things that are real about somebody that’s been in professional sports for that short amount of time, making a living that’s gonna set you up for the rest of your life, but then something like this comes to the table and you have that opportunity to do something for a long time and stay embedded and a big part of the sport that you love, that’s a perfect scenario for me.”

WHEN DID YOU MAKE THE FINAL DECISION AND WHEN DID YOU INFORM SHR?  “It was obviously last week all that came to the table.  That’s when you make the final decision, but you don’t make a decision to go into television.  You don’t make that decision.  They make that decision.  There’s not a racer out there, you’ve got a lot of friends and things like that that if they could have stayed in the sport and done something that not be in the seat in a weekly basis that they would have taken that.  It was TV gave me that offer and that opportunity.  They’re the ones that made that decision, not me.  The only thing I had to do is be smart enough to realize the opportunity that was in front of me and to capitalize on it.  That’s what we did.”

ARE YOU AT PEACE WITH HOW YOUR CAREER HAS PLAYED OUT IN THE CUP SERIES?  “I think I tried to say that in my letter.  I don’t anybody is ever satisfied with anything in life.  I mean, if you win, you leave, ‘Damn, I wish I had hit that restart a little bit better.  I didn’t lead every lap.  I had a bad pit stop.’  That’s if you win.  There’s certainly things about that that you’ll always be not satisfied about, but I’m very satisfied with being able to be a part of this sport for a long time, having a lot of friends in this sport, making a lot of friends because of this sport, representing so many different organizations and just powerhouses in corporate America.  It’s cool to have those relationships still to this day, to be able to look back and say, ‘Hey, man.  I represented them.  They were a sponsor of mine,’ or ‘I know that CEO or that president, and I’m going to dinner with him next week.’  Those are all the things that were afforded to me in my life and my family because of this sport and being a part of it for so long.  I don’t regret anything.  I can promise you this I’ve probably had more fun than about anybody out there these last 16 years, probably too much fun sometimes, but would I take anything back or change anything?  Absolutely not.  I mean, we got close once — finished second and I think fifth — had good runs within the playoffs and things like that.  Did I win as many races I would have liked?  No, but I had wonderful opportunities to and raced for a lot of good organizations.  I won races for all three manufacturers.  That’s something that was super cool.  I’ve done a lot.  I’m proud of what I’ve done and I’m satisfied, for sure.  There’s no question about it.”

HOW DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO SUM UP WHAT YOU’VE DONE ON THE TRACK IN YOUR CAREER?  “That’s so hard.  That’s the question.  It’s like I’m not dying, man. That’s the question that is so hard to answer and you see people say that all the time.  It’s like, ‘All right, brag on yourself,’ and that’s the hardest thing to do as a competitor, I guess just as a human being, but, man, again I think I want people to obviously remember the good runs that I had, the fun that we had.  I think everybody knows there’s people that win races and there’s people that win races and had a lot of fun doing it and I’m proud to say there’s probably not many people that celebrated and had as much fun winning as we did, but we had a lot of fun in the bad weekends.  You’ve got to shake that off.  You’ve got to chase this dream and the organizations and the people that I represented that’s what you’re most proud of, but the relationships and friendships that I’ve made because of this sport, being a part of it, are what you’re most proud of.  The fans.  I haven’t said that enough.  There is nothing more fun than going to a NASCAR race and it’s that way because of the fans.  This year has completely sucked being at those tracks without fans.  It is an empty hole that you can’t replace.  You literally can’t.  I’ve been one of the only drivers over the years, I’m not saying I’m the only one, but I go out each and every week and jump on the golf cart and go ride around and see fans and see people.  I can’t tell you how many people — you know that ‘ol Jim is gonna be parked right there in the corner with his Winnebago and he’s gonna have cornhole out, and he’ll have him some Busch Lights there.  You know you can stop there for a cold beer, gotta see Jim.  Over here are those people from Louisiana that have been your fans forever.  You know those people.  I don’t know their names, but I know damn well every single year that’s where they’re parked, where you can rely on them and know that they’re there and know that they’ll be there with your flag or your shirt on or your hat on their head.  Those are the things that you’ll miss the most.”

— Ford Performance —