DEARBORN - Short and sweet.
Even though that phrase didn’t come out of Michael McDowell’s mouth when talking about the first car he ever drove, you could tell from the emotion in his voice that it summed up the situation pretty well.
“When I turned 16 my mom got a Ford Mustang, the 35th anniversary model,” began McDowell, who grew up in Glendale, AZ. “I had my driver’s license, but I didn’t have a car yet, so that was my daily driver for about four days.”
Those who have owned Mustangs in the past or currently have one sitting in their garage can probably guess why McDowell lost his driving privileges in such a short amount of time.
“I burned the rear tires off of it, and then I was no longer allowed to drive my mom’s car,” he laughed. “I would literally slow down if I was coming up to a green light just to wait for it to change. I had to get a beater to drive around after that.”
But driving fast had already come natural by then to McDowell, whose bout with his mom’s Mustang came at about the same time he started his first job, which happened to be as a mechanic working on go-karts at the Bondurant High Performance Driving School in Phoenix.
“What’s so silly about what I did to my mom’s car is that I could have done that at the Bondurant School,” reasoned McDowell, who is currently in his third season driving in the NASCAR Cup Series with Front Row Motorsports. “We’ve got unlimited Goodyear tires and it was okay to hammer those cars, but you’re just tempted to leave that light as hard as you can every time. I couldn’t help myself.”
McDowell eventually became a go-kart instructor and then at the age of 18 he moved over to the big school, where he taught students the ins-and-outs of driving at high speed.
“At the time, Bondurant was an all-Ford school, so every day I was driving Mustangs and Crown Vic’s, just sliding them around the course and having a good time,” he said. “We grew up racing, so having fast cars, cool cars that had big brakes and handled well, is what we enjoyed. Mustang is an iconic American muscle car that has evolved so much over the years and it’s always fun to see what’s coming next.”
While some might look back with regret at losing the opportunity to drive a Mustang, McDowell has no such feeling because those four days ended up leading to something even more memorable.
“That’s how I picked up my wife,” said McDowell of his then-girlfriend, Jami. “I first started dating her when I got my license and she’s been stuck with me ever since.”
And now that the McDowell’s have four children, their vehicle needs have changed from when they were younger. These days they drive a Ford Expedition and currently are on their second model of the year after Jami was involved in an accident a couple of months ago.
“That was the ultimate test of safety. Thankfully, my kids weren’t with her, but she was in a bad accident with her Expedition and was able to walk away,” said McDowell. “I bought another one right after that and it was hard not to because when somebody can walk away from that type of accident it’s hard to imagine putting her in anything else.”
With summer now officially started and the kids being out of school, the McDowell’s will be spending a lot of time going up and down the interstates of North Carolina and beyond. Even though dad has to work on the weekends, the family still manages to get away whenever possible.
“A lot of times we’ll drive to the races. We’ll drive to Richmond, Talladega, Atlanta, even Daytona when we want to go to the beach, so we’re in it a lot and driving a lot,” said McDowell. “There aren’t a lot of vehicles on the market that can handle our family and when you’ve got suitcases, boogie boards and all the stuff that comes with traveling, we couldn’t ask for a better vehicle.”