Michael McDowell’s Big Win at Daytona: The Story Isn’t Over Yet
by Dale Reeves
This is a story about perseverance. This is a story about a man of faith. This is a story about one of the really good guys. This past Sunday night, after a crash in the second to last lap of the Daytona 500, NASCAR driver Michael McDowell won his first race after 358 Cup starts. That’s three hundred and fifty-eight! 358 starts without a win in his 14-year career. Let that sink in. To be the first driver to cross the finish line, 36-year-old McDowell had to navigate around the fiery wreckage of drivers Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Busch for a victorious lap in NASCAR’s most famous race. Michael’s #34 car took the checkered flag in the Super Bowl of professional stock car racing—something every race car driver dreams of.
I watched a lot of the race on Valentine’s night on FOX after six hours of rain delays. Michael was in the top ten cars for much of the night, and I knew he had a chance, not just to win a race, but to win in Daytona! As they entered lap 199, Michael’s Ford Mustang sponsored by Love’s Travel Stops was in third place, behind Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. After the race, Michael told the New York Times, “I knew Brad was going to make a move. Brad made his move, and Joey blocked it. One went left, one went right, and I just drove right through the middle.”
No doubt, Michael had questioned his racing career many times when he didn’t see victories or the success he wanted. But he stayed faithful and obedient to God, and ultimately his determination and patience paid off in a huge way! What a testament to faith. After his huge upset win, Michael spun his wheels in front of the less-than-capacity crowd, and in the post-race interview he said:
“I just can’t believe it. I just gotta thank God. So many years just grinding it out, hoping for an opportunity like this . . . I’m so thankful. Such a great way to get a first victory. Daytona 500, are you kidding me?!”
“The story isn’t over yet.” Those were the words printed on the back of T-shirts we had made at Standard Publishing in preparation for the 2011 Kentucky Speedway Sprint Cup race. I had worked with Beth Guckenberger, co-founder and co-executive director of Back2Back Ministries on her just released book, Relentless Hope. Back2Back is an international nonprofit organization that is dedicated to being a voice for orphans and impoverished families around the world with several locations in Mexico, Nigeria, India, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. If you want to know more about their amazing ministry, please check out their story here.
Due to a connection my sister Angie had made with Beth on a bus while on a Back2Back mission trip in Monterrey, Mexico, Beth and I had forged an author/editor relationship and my company, Standard Publishing, would publish a sequel to Beth’s first book, Reckless Faith. Click here to order Beth’s books.
The connections continued. Enter NASCAR. Several of the drivers in the NASCAR circuit had become familiar with the ministry of Back2Back, had been on mission trips there, and had become advocates for this organization—including 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne. Michael McDowell was really just beginning his career, and because of that, he didn’t have full sponsorship of his car at NASCAR races. Because of our connection to Beth and the release of her book, Relentless Hope, my company was presented with the opportunity to sponsor Michael’s Toyota car at the Quaker State 400 to be run at the Kentucky Speedway July 9, 2011. That meant we would get to see our name and Beth’s book cover on Michael’s car. It also meant I would receive a “Hot Pass” for the race, which gets you access into the garage, the infield, and into pit row. I had never been to a NASCAR race in person and been able to witness and hear the roar of the engines this close and personal. Wow! The day was amazing.
The day of the big race I traveled with Beth Guckenberger and several others from Back2Back Ministries as we got to see Michael’s #66 Relentless Hope car. The design was so cool to see in person, but the thing about the day that impressed me most was the man I met that day, Michael McDowell. We talked about his faith journey, his marriage, his heart for children, and how this day had come to be because he was just in his third season on the NASCAR circuit and didn’t have all the sponsorship and perks that the major players in the sport enjoyed. I was impressed by his faith and his humility.
Beth commented on that day, “Michael’s enthusiasm for orphan care and service is an inspiration to those in the racing community and beyond. I am absolutely delighted to be teaming up with him to help promote the message of this book.” The theme of her book is God’s redemption as told through over 50 compelling real-life stories that would resonate with anyone trying to find purpose in the midst of pain. As Beth observed, “Despite the circumstances, God is writing the story of our lives—and the story’s not over yet!”
I’ll never forget standing in pit row with Michael and his team for the opening prayer before the race, as he said, “You are part of my crew today, so you will stand with me before the race.” Prior to that, we attended a chapel before the race that was led by their “church on the road,” Motor Racing Outreach, a ministry for drivers, pit crew members, their spouses, and kids. Before every race they provide some quiet moments for this tight-knit NASCAR community for reflection and worship.
Today, Michael and his wife Jami have four children, including a child they adopted from China. Michael says, “As things go bad in your career or things go good, there’s always these highs and lows. Jami is that constant in my life just like God is there. He’s always the same loving God.”
Fast Forward Ten Years
Ten long years. Michael has continued to develop as a driver. He now is a part of the Front Row Motorsports team, and is sponsored by Love’s Travel Stops. I jumped up and down last Sunday night when he won the coveted Daytona 500. But when I heard his post-race comments, I thought, There is a man who has stayed in the fight, he’s battled, he’s persevered, and he still sounds like the same humble man I met years ago.
One of the first drivers to visit victory lane and congratulate Michael was Joey Logano, who said this, “I hate we didn’t win, but if we couldn’t win, I am really happy to see McDowell win this thing. He’s a great guy, a great person, a great leader in life, and he’s taught me a lot.”
In my opinion, Michael has won many times over prior to this race. He’s a winner because of his commitment to Jesus. He’s a winner because of his perseverance, sticking to it when it would have been easy to walk away. He’s a winner because he’s read the end of the book and he knows Jesus wins. Michael’s story should tell all of us, whether we are living with our biological family, or were adopted by another family, that God sees us and knows the life path he has for us. He has a plan for all of us, and he’s never done with our story. That should give us relentless hope, hope worth fighting for!
God’s Word tells us in Jeremiah 15:19, 21, “If you return, then I will restore you—You will stand before Me; And if you extract the precious from the worthless, You will become My spokesman. . . . And I will redeem you” (NASB).
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV).