This is a special weekend for Clint Bowyer for several reasons.
From a racing perspective, he enjoys the challenge presented by the longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But there’s also a personal perspective for Bowyer.
For more than 30 years, the Speedway has honored those that have served in the military, with special recognition for those that have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Bowyer not only salutes the troops, it also allows him to reflect upon his grandfather, a World War II war hero. Bowyer never met his paternal grandfather, but his legacy has had a profound impact upon the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang.
Lieutenant Dale E. Bowyer was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He won several awards for courage and heroism during his tour of duty fighting Germany in World War II, including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism.
The Distinguished Service Cross is the second-highest military decoration that is awarded by the Army.
As the Army and allied troops pushed deep into Germany, the elder Bowyer’s platoon came under heavy enemy attack in early 1945.
Dale Bowyer was severely wounded by a land mine, shattering both feet, but he refused to be evacuated, choosing to remain with his platoon and lead them to safety.
The platoon regrouped and continued their advance. It was only then that Lt. Bowyer allowed himself to be evacuated. He eventually lost one of his injured legs due to the blast.
When he received the Distinguished Service Cross, the commendation to Bowyer read in part: “His devotion to duty and to his men, and his courage and fearless determination, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.”
After the war, Dale Bowyer worked in the dairy business in Iola, Kansas. Clint Bowyer never met his grandfather, who passed away in 1974.
“I never got to meet him but I’ve seen a lot of letters from the President, medals and all these awards that he got,” Bowyer said of his grandfather. “I have the highest respect for him and every soldier who has served this country.
“I love getting to meet them when they come to the track and I like getting to meet their families and just tell them thank you. We owe so much to everyone who’s served and we will always remember the ones who have given their lives.”
Bowyer thinks about his grandfather a lot, particularly around this time of year. In Sunday’s race, he will also be saluting the memory of Private First Class Andy Krippner of Garland, Texas, who lost his life in Afghanistan in 2011, just a few days after turning 20 years old.
Krippner had been in-country just six weeks when he and three other soldiers were killed after their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.
“Everyone knows what we are going through right now as a country and it’s easy to get down,” Bowyer said. “But when you hear the stories of Andy Krippner and others who have sacrificed their lives for this country, you get a new perspective.
“I am incredibly honored to carry Andy’s name on our car and can’t thank him and his family and friends enough for the sacrifices made for our country.”
As for Sunday’s race, the scheduled 600 miles each driver hopes to complete will make it 1,312 miles in three races, including the two this week at Darlington.
Bowyer hopes to build upon the momentum he gained from Darlington, particularly Wednesday night’s race. He became the first driver this season to lead both stages and led 71 laps, but he made contact with the wall late in the race and finished 22nd.
“I was very proud of the Mustang my guys brought to me in such a short turnaround,” said Bowyer, who finished 17th in last Sunday’s return to racing after the COVID-19 hiatus. “The thing just took off behind two cars racing for lucky dog and smoked the wall and blew our night. We keep doing that, our day will come.”
Bowyer enters the 600 ninth in the standings, 88 points behind series leader and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick.
“Everyone gets caught up in the return to racing and rightly so,” said Bowyer. “But these races mean a lot for points and making the playoffs. We need to run up front and get those bonus points and have a strong finish. It’s go time.”