Greg Ives admits he’s not one for surprises.
“If you’re trying to make me uncomfortable, having a surprise party or putting me at the center of attention … is probably my least comfortable thing,” the crew chief for Alex Bowman, the most recent winner in the Cup Series, told NBC Sports.
“I do not like presents. I do not like opening presents just because I don’t feel like I have the reaction that maybe warrants the gift. Not that I’m not appreciative, I just don’t have that ‘wow’ factor.”
Even so, Bowman and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team set up a surprise for Ives last week. During a team meeting, they displayed the image of the throwback scheme Bowman will drive in the May 9 Cup race at Darlington Raceway.
The seafoam-colored car pays tribute to Ives’ racing career in Super Late Models.
“He definitely didn’t expect it,” Bowman told NBC Sports of Ives’ reaction. “I don’t think he really understood what it was for a second. When he grasped what it was, he got really emotional. … He cried twice. He cried when he saw the car, and he cried when he saw the firesuit.”
But the story of the paint scheme doesn’t end there.
Ives was coming off his first full season in Super Late Models and wanted to upgrade his equipment, leading him on this journey.
“I was a quiet greaseball kid, who only thing he cared about was racing,” Ives said. “That was my No. 1 priority. Not girlfriends. Not going to the movies with my friends.
“I had a high school football coach one time tell me that I had the rest of my life to race, and if I wanted to play football, I needed to do it right away. I guess he was right, I had the rest of my life (for racing). I didn’t go out for the football team because of that.”
As Ives prepared for his second season in Super Late Models, he and his father spent $10,000 for a new car.
“It was a big purchase for me,” Ives said.
The seller suggested Ives keep the unique color scheme. Ives didn’t truly understand the significance of the paint scheme until he pulled into Wisconsin International Raceway with that car for the first time.
Officials, fans and competitors were drawn to the car, which was similar to one that Jim Pagel raced there in 1993. Pagel, 42, died from injuries suffered in a May 1997 crash when his late model car slammed into the wall at Wisconsin International Raceway.
Pagel was memorialized more for who he was off the track than on it.
Joseph Vanden Acker wrote in The Oshkosh Northwestern after Pagel’s death: “While many who don’t know racing think of the sport at the local level as a haven for gearheads, Pagel showed us what it meant to be a gentleman. If there was a dispute over something that happened on the track, Pagel was one driver who would admit a mistake or accept an apology.”
Ives began to learn more about Pagel from those who admired the paint scheme on Ives’ car.
“The color scheme really started to choose me at that point,” Ives said. “It had roots, it had a lot of significance to it. I decided to continue with that color and keep it as simple as I could.”
Soon, that paint scheme will race at Darlington Raceway.
“As insignificant as a color scheme or a type of race car or whatnot may be in the whole grand scheme of things, it all culminates together in that’s my life,” Ives said. “Like I said, I don’t like being the center of attention, so I was rather embarrassed a little bit that it’s even a consideration that one of my schemes is going to be on track at one of the most prestigious racetracks to ever hold a race, let alone a Cup race and to be on national TV for millions of people to watch.
“It’s a good story, I feel. I don’t think I’m worthy of any of the praise or any of the story about it, but I’m glad there is one.”
This story, though, might not have been told had not it been suggested to pay tribute to Ives’ racing.
For the past two years, Bowman’s throwback scheme at Darlington has paid tribute to Jimmie Johnson (in 2020) and Tim Richmond (in 2019). But when it came time for this year, Bowman and others were a bit stumped.
“I didn’t have a driver that I wanted to do,” Bowman said. “I was like, ‘What if we did one of Greg’s late models?’ Everybody liked the idea and (sponsor) Ally was super on-board with it. Then we kind of went to work finding pictures and trying to surprise him and all that.”
The surprise was not only for Ives, but for the rest of the team in learning the history of that paint scheme.
I thought it was about time we did something for the guy who calls the shots for the Ally 48 team. From driver to crew chief, Greg’s the man. Thanks @TeamHendrick & @allyracing for taking my idea & running with it. Ready to get this scheme on track at Darlington #NASCARThrowback pic.twitter.com/LiKpbhy97n
— Alex Bowman (@Alex_Bowman) April 20, 2021