Stories

NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer

A match made in heaven, er, Hays

By NICK SCHWIEN

nschwien@dailynews.net

A few seconds after the conversation ended, a thought crossed Brandon Blochlinger's mind.

"When I got the first phone call, I thought this could be a pretty cool deal,"  Blochlinger said.

But there was one catch. Until everything was worked out and confirmed, one of the driving forces behind BMS mods in Belleville wasn't allowed to say a word.

So Blochlinger bit his tongue until he finally got confirmation: NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer was going to compete at RPM Speedway in Hays, and Blochlinger was going to be tasked with building a car for the Emporia native.

"I had known for a while, but I had to lay low a bit,"  Blochlinger said. "Once something gets out, it spreads quickly."

Word indeed spread quickly once the announcement of Bowyer's trip to RPM Speedway to compete in today's special Mod Mania show -- featuring IMCA modifieds and Northern sport mods.

Races begin at 7:30 p.m., with grandstands opening at 4:30. The night features a $2,000 payout to the winner of the modified feature, and a $1,000 payout to the sport mod winner.

But what makes the night special is the arrival of Bowyer and fellow NASCAR driver Kenny Schrader, who competed once at the Hays track three years ago.

Late Monday night, Blochlinger had his modified loaded up, as well as Bowyer's ride, and was traveling from his shop in Belleville in north-central Kansas to Hays. He wanted to make sure everything was in tip-top shape for the NASCAR driver come tonight when Bowyer climbs behind the wheel.

"I don't really talk to him about it,"  Blochlinger said. "I'm nervous about it a little."

Bowyer, on the other hand, was playing the role of a seasoned veteran Monday, a day before the races.

"I've seen pictures of it on Twitter, and it looks awesome," said Bowyer, fresh off an eighth-place finish at Sunday's NASCAR race at Pocono on the East Coast. "I've never driven a Belleville Motorsports mod. It looks beautiful. I'm ready to get back to some dirt slinging and using the tear-offs."

Schrader has spent time between the NASCAR ranks and dirt tracks throughout the U.S. this year. He'll be piloting his own Federated Auto Parts modified for the evening. Federated Auto Parts is sponsoring the night's races and is responsible for bringing Schrader to town a second time.

It will be the first time in track history two NASCAR drivers have competed on the 3/8-mile dirt oval.

"That will be cool," Bowyer said about he and Schrader battling each other, along with many other drivers from the area and several neighboring states.

Bowyer admits Schrader might have an advantage come tonight. By late July, Schrader already had victories numbering in the double-digits on dirt this year as he's traveled the nation.

"Any time you go back and race something you grew up racing, of course it's fun," Bowyer said. "But people expect you to go back and pick up right where you left off. Truth be told, a lot of things have changed in modifieds since I last raced them."

Bowyer estimates it's been close to four or five years since he last raced in a modified.

"It brings me back to where everything started," he said. "Modified racing is one of the most competitive there is."

While many expect Bowyer and Schrader to have a field day on the track, both admit they are most looking forward to appearances to thank sponsors and mingle with fans.

Both have scheduled meet-and-greet sessions before hot laps begin.

"I'm excited for several reasons,"  Bowyer said. "First and foremost is our sponsor, Crawford Supply. It will be great to meet with them and the fans. ... It's important to go back and spend time with them."

For Blochlinger, he's been spending a lot of time fine-tuning Bowyer's ride, admitting maybe he's focused more on that car than his own.

He grabbed the motor off the dyno Thursday and hot lapped the car around Salina Speedway on Friday night to make sure the motor was ready to go.

Blochlinger said the night is special for him as well. Bowyer is one of the biggest names -- if not the biggest -- he's built a car for.

"This deal has been fun,"  Blochlinger said about building the backup house car. "It's exciting working with him.

"BMS has come a long way. It hasn't been just me. It's been a group effort. Everybody is excited about it. We've got a big group from BMS coming down to make sure everything goes well."