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Q&A with Hall of Fame Super Late Model dirt racer Dale McDowell

Dale McDowell, a 2017 National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame inductee, is one of the most accomplished racers of all-time. Courtesy of Shane McDowell Racing.

Last week, we kicked off our Q&A series by interviewing Northeast Ultimate Super Late Model dirt racer Matt Cosner, who is currently second in the series standings. On Saturday night, we caught up with National Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer Dale McDowell. The 52-year-old has one national touring series title (1999 Hav-A-Tampa Xtreme) and is a winner of the Dirt Late Model Dream (2014) and the World 100 (2005). He’s driven for NASCAR Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series but now drives for his brother, Shane McDowell, running a hand-picked schedule. In 18 A-mains this year, he as five wins, 13 Top fives, and 16 top 10s, including a third-place finish Saturday at the USA 100 at Virginia Motor Speedway.

Kyle: You’ve been racing for 34 years now, right?

Dale: I think that’s it. [Laughter]

K: What would you say your favorite year is? In terms of memories and accolades.

D: Oh, there’s several. Any of the big races, the years we’ve had. There’s really not one particular year that stands out. But we’ve won a lot of special events and big marquee events and they’ve all kind of fell in several different years. But we’ve had a lot of good years in the past. There’s eight or 10 that really stand out.

K: What’s your most prized accomplishment? Most memorable?

D: The World 100 [at Eldora Speedway] or the [Dirt Late Model] Dream [at Eldora] are the bigger races. We won the inaugural [World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series Channellock Challenge] when they put dirt on Bristol [Motor Speedway] in 2000. Some of those really stand out, in terms of prestigious races that are really important.

K: Everybody’s goal is to win races, win the big dollar races and compete, but what keeps you going as a race car driver?

D: Just the competition side. That’s why racing is so hard: You never conquer it. Even if you win a race, there are things you feel like you could’ve done different to be better. And if you have a bad night, you’re analyzing and doing the same thing to see what you could have done differently. It’s definitely the challenge and competition side.

K: What have you appreciated the most out of your racing journey?

D: Out of our racing journey, the camaraderie with all the people you meet — race fans, competitors. You know, it’s awesome. It’s such a large number of fans and racers you run across, especially when you start traveling. You know? It’s just the good people you meet. We’ve had a lot of good sponsors that have supported our program. And there are a lot of great people and sponsors that haven’t supported out program but support other racers’ programs that we’ve met. It’s neat to interact with all the different cultures.

K: I love that part, too. So, if you had a time machine and could go back to any year, any era of racing — whether its NASCAR, dirt racing, open wheel, etc. — and could drive one car for a full season, which ride would you choose?

D: I’d go back … and probably run a sprint car. Never have driven a sprint car. I’ve been in late models all my life. Always been intrigued with what they do. We definitely would have to back up several years because I’m 52. [Laughter]. Don’t want to get in one when I’m 52. [Laughter]. But probably, as a younger racer, I would like to experience something like that probably.

K: Was there a sprint car driver you admired?

D: Obviously as a kid growing up, Steve Kinser was the king.

K: He’s definitely a big one.

D: Yeah. Now, one of our Textron teammates, Donny Schatz, is really up there, competitive every week. So, you have to look up to those guys. Any guy who’s at the top of motorsports that really stay on top of their game.

K: What percent of success in dirt late model racing has to do with the driver, what percent is the car and what percent is luck?

D: Well, I mean, luck is a huge part of it. That’s the starting portion of it.

K: I guess with the pill draw?

D: Yeah, when you get [to the racetrack], it starts with the pill draw. And you qualify a lap and then everything has to work together. It’s an overall ingredient. Engine, crew, car — the full, total package. Everything has to go together. And that’s what most people don’t understand, is when you have a successful night, you have to look back to all the things — all the events leading up to that main event. Everything has to go your way. That’s the biggest portion of it, I think.

Courtesy of Shane McDowell Racing.

K: How’s your personality inside the car compared to outside the car? Or how is it different?

D: I think I’m about the same. I’m not a real aggressive driver. Obviously, when we get mad, our aggression level steps up a little bit…

K: [Laughter]

D: But I try to race the same inside the car as I am to how I’m outside the car.

K: What’s the biggest compliment somebody could give you? Whether if it’s racing or you being outside the car?

D: Giving you credit as a role model to the kids, the up and coming kids. Or if it’s something you do inside the car or outside the car. Anything about the character you build over your career. That’s definitely a compliment.

K: When’s the last time you raced for a series crown? Has it been a while? I see you’re not traveling with the WoO or Lucas Oil LMDS.

D: Probably 2009, when I drove for Clint Bowyer.

K: That’s right.

D: We finished fourth in points in [the LOLMDS in 2009] and [2010] we finished sixth. Then the next year, we fell out. Shane’s and my mother passed. [Shane McDowell is Dale’s brother and the car owner]. We had to miss some races that year. That’s the last year we ran for a title. Since then we just run a limited schedule and try to have fun.

K: Do you enjoy that more because of the races you can pick and choose? Like [Saturday’s USA 100 at Virginia Motor Speedway] and not feeling like you have to travel everywhere?

D: I do. [Shane] has other things going on and I’ve had other things going — involvement in a racetrack in Tennessee and my driving school stuff. And Shane’s had different things going on with some of our sponsors and driver development programs. So, it just kinds of all fits into what we’ve done.

K: I know there’s not an exact number, but how much longer are you going to keep at this? How many years, you think?

D: I’m going to go as long as those young guys start whipping our tail every week. [Laughter]

K: [Laughter]

D: No, I don’t know. I haven’t put a number to it. Then again, as long as we can stay competitive, I feel like we’re going to stay out there and keep getting it.

K: The guys at the top of the sport — Scott Bloomquist, Jonathan Davenport, you, Chris Madden, Donny Schatz — seem to be in their 40s and 50s. Why do you think that is? Is it just experience?

D: I really don’t think there’s a big advantage to the older guys, as there was several years ago. Now, with the cars, you can be more aggressive with them — with the packages and the setups and everything. So, now, a veteran racers picks and chooses his battles on the racetrack. Where a young guy, the aggressiveness gets him in trouble occasionally. The older guys seem to lay back and take what they can get and not try and force the issue. I think I fall into that category.

K: When it’s all said and done, how do you want to be remembered as a race car driver?

D: Obviously, you want to have a good reputation out there and out of the car as well. I think I’ve been a good role model for people coming into racing and being a good representation of the sport and their sponsors and things like that. That’s what we look for every week.

K: Is there one thing you wish you could change about dirt racing or a few things you think that could pique the interest of more people?

D: Well, I like the direction it’s going. I wish the expenses were down a little bit. It’s awfully expensive. I think that restricts people from coming in. I would love to see more youth involvement with what we’re doing. Seems like they’re on their phones or playing computers a little bit more to when they did back in the day, but that’s the areas I would like to see get a little stronger.

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