PHOENIX — NASCAR's best return to the Valley this weekend, and for Michael McDowell, it's given him the opportunity to return to his roots amid his newfound fame. For him, life has come full circle.
"I love PKRA [Phoenix Kart Racing Association]. We were there every week, every weekend and grew up racing there," McDowell told ABC15. "It's where you learn all your foundation and all the fundamentals that I use every day when I'm racing a car."
The NASCAR Cup Series driver from Glendale returned to the first track he ever knew Thursday night to speak to the next generation of drivers, and race alongside the kids that aspire to be just like him one day.
"To see the kids and see the guys that are aspiring to make it to this level and to chase their dreams like I did when I started there at eight years old," McDowell said. "The message for me I think is really clear, just never give up. There's been lots of times in my career where it'd been easy to get defeated and give up and just perseverance and just keep fighting through it."
The road to Victory Lane was a grueling one for McDowell, but his persistence paid off at long last. The 34-year-old didn't just win a race, but the race. The Daytona 500.
"You get 14 years into your career and you haven't had a victory, things look challenging, but I just always held onto that hope that one day it'll all come together, and the opportunity will be right and be at the right place at the right time," he said. "When they said the 34 to Victory Lane, it's an overwhelming sensation of just emotion and just an incredible, incredible feeling for sure."
It's the kind of victory that is life-changing. For starters, everything that comes with being the Daytona 500 champion, as well as a key to the City of Glendale and a proclamation in his name. March 11, 2021, is hereby known as Michael McDowell Day.
"To be one of a handful of people that have a key to the city and to have today be Michael McDowell Day is crazy," he said. "The support that I've gotten here has just been amazing. It's been humbling, and I'm honored to be from Glendale. I'm honored to represent Arizona and to be the first one from Arizona to win the Daytona 500. That's awesome, and that's something that lives on forever."
McDowell has run 20 races at Phoenix Raceway in his career, never finishing higher than 12th, but there's no doubt this year he comes in with a lot more confidence and a lot more fanfare. We'll see if lightning can strike twice for the Arizonan on Sunday at the Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway.