Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship contender Clint Bowyer joined more than 3,000 students from Byron Nelson, Northwest and Steele Accelerated high schools to help honor local first responders as part of a special 9/11 remembrance assembly held Tuesday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Area firefighters, paramedics, police officers and dispatchers took part in a special "Heroes Walk" with cheerleaders lining the grandstands, the bands performing, and students standing and cheering to demonstrate their respect and gratitude. Bowyer, visiting Fort Worth as part of NASCAR's Chase Across America program, expressed his gratitude for the sacrifices made by the first responders and the lasting impact of 9/11 that occurred 11 years ago today.
"I'm proud to have them here," Bowyer said of the first responders on hand. "It's so important to remember them. I can't go anywhere without knowing somebody who wasn't directly affected by it (9/11). My truck driver lost his brother on 9/11. It's incredible the sacrifices that those folks give for our freedom so that we can have a comfortable way of life."
The assembly also included a special competition among the three high schools, with the winning team earning tickets to November's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway for its school's entire student body. Selected students from each school took part in an obstacle course that required them to roll tires, push a stock car down the frontstretch and catch a t-shirt out of a launcher.
Byron Nelson High School's team proved victorious and earned the entire student body tickets for the Nov. 4 AAA Texas 500, the eighth race in the 10-event Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. However, Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage and Bowyer wanted to make sure every student that attended the 9/11 remembrance could attend the AAA Texas 500 and they announced that all 3,000-plus students would be receiving a race ticket and also offered a special discount for their families.
"We just gave away over 3,000 tickets to high schoolers," Bowyer said with a smile. "Every year, you always go to NASCAR meetings and they ask the younger drivers, 'How do we get the younger demographic?' Well, Eddie just accomplished that. He just got over 3,000 future fans of this sport to come watch us race."
Bowyer, in his first season with Michael Waltrip Racing driving the No. 15 Five-Hour Energy Toyota, qualified for the Chase for the fourth time in his career and is riding the momentum of last week's victory at Richmond.
The 12-driver Chase field consists of, respectively, Denny Hamlin (2012 points), five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (2009), three-time Sprint Cup Series champ Tony Stewart (2009), Brad Keselowski (2009), Greg Biffle (2006), Bowyer (2006), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2003), 2003 Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth (2003), Kevin Harvick (2000), Martin Truex Jr. (2000), Kasey Kahne (2000) and four-time Sprint Cup Series champ Jeff Gordon. Gordon made a dramatic run at Richmond to secure the final Chase spot while notables such as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards did not make the field.
"This was me going into Richmond, 'Who do you want in the Chase?'" recalled Bowyer with a chuckle. "Do you want Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch or Jeff Gordon to race for a championship? I don't like any of those. I'd rather somebody else win, maybe one of those start-and-parks. Could we possible get one of them in the Chase? Is there any way in this last race that they could get in? I was going to help them. But there wasn't any way."
Despite a stiff field that includes four former Sprint Cup champions and 13 combined crowns, Bowyer likes his chances of capturing his first championship. The pursuit begins Sunday with Round 1 of the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway.
"That's what I love about the Chase," Bowyer said. "If you look at my stats and my records, some of the Chase races are the best races that I have ever had. I'm very much looking forward to the Chase because of that track record and, more importantly, because of the speed in our race cars. These MWR cars are extremely fast week in and week out. The last four races we had a shot at winning all of them and probably should have.
"If you look back at our last five, six, heck, even give us 10 races, we've had some bumps in the road but not near as many as the other guys in the Chase. Martin Truex Jr. and I, and Mark Martin, are capable of winning a few more races in the Chase. If we can do that, we can compete for this championship."
Of the 10 races in the Chase, Bowyer has the AAA Texas 500 circled because Texas Motor Speedway is one of his stronger tracks. He has yet to earn a Sprint Cup victory at Texas Motor Speedway, but he has turned in solid performances with seven top-10 finishes in 13 career starts. He finished a personal-best second in last year's Samsung Mobile 500, but Bowyer desperately wants to be the one hoisting the six-shooters in Victory Lane following the AAA Texas 500.
"I want to leave Texas a full-on sportsman," said Bowyer, who has recorded top-10 finishes in his last four AAA Texas 500 starts. "I want a shotgun (given to the pole winner) to go turkey hunting and pistols just in case the Wild Wild West fires back up. I want guns when I leave here blazing. That's exactly what I want. I've never had those and they're awesome."