Owens added a win in the North-South 100 to his resume this year, earning $50,000.
Sometimes I can learn a lot about a Dirt Late Model driver when I show up early for an interview.
That was the case when I arrived ahead of schedule for an interview and met Jimmy Owens. I asked a crew member where he was, and he pointed under the left-front corner of a race car, among the heat, dust, and grease. Even though this driver runs with the top traveling series, he becomes a crew member when he's not behind the wheel.
"I try to help on the cars as much as I can," says the Newport, Tennessee, driver.
Owens hails from a racing family. His brother Kurt raced Dirt Late Models and even tried Busch Grand National racing, and his grandfather Hugh owned and occasionally drove race cars.
Jimmy, meanwhile, started his dirt racing career in 1991 in a Street Stock. "Heck, I didn't know what I was doing," he recalls, "but I still won my first race and had five wins for the season."
It was an indication of things to come.
Through the years that followed, success came at an amazing level, to the point that it was news when Jimmy Owens didn't win.
Check out these Street Stock statistics. He claimed 16 wins in 1992, followed by 17 the following year. In 1994, he had 19 victories. But there was a change that year, with his introduction to Dirt Late Models. He ran in a few DLM races and earned a best finish of fourth at Volunteer Speedway in Tennessee.
Owens had another strong season in 2007.
Then came a big change in the type of race vehicle, but not a change in success. "I started running a UMP Modified in 1995," Owens recalls, "and had over 20 wins, which got me a third in the UMP National Points."
Danny Anders became Jimmy's first car owner in 1996, and yes, the success was still there with a second season of over 20 wins. Then, in 1997, there were 25 wins, but the '98 season put that number to shame as he notched 41 victories and his first UMP National Championship. He was driving the Lightning Chassis house car for part of that season.
A second place in the UMP points came in 1999, again with over 40 wins. "A bunch of the guys figured I must be cheating, winning as much as I did, and I had my engine claimed several times," Owens says.
Could he keep up this phenomenal winning pace in the 21st century? You bet, as he won an unheard of 49 out of 62 races and took his second UMP National Modified Championship in 2001.
There was a clear reason for his success, however. It's a family connection with a first cousin, Chris Fox, who has been helping since 1991 and crew chief since 1995. Fox and Owens seem to be joined at the hip. Owens also credits his other team members, all volunteers who travel with the team when possible. "I owe them big time," he says.
There were 30 more Modified wins and another title in 2001, but there was also another step into the Dirt Late Models as he ran some races for owner Jerry Weisgarber.
"I won a couple times, but I realized I had a lot to learn with these cars," Owens admits. "It was tough at first to catch up with the greater speed. Also, I was used to driving a swing-arm Modified while the Dirt Late Model used a four-bar suspension."
Owens celebrates another big payday.
After trying to hold down a job as a forging press operator with TRW, Owens began racing full time in 2003. Recalls Owens, "It was about half-and-half between the Modifieds and Late Models. Had only a half-dozen Late Model wins, but I really hadn't expected to have the winning that I had done in the Modifieds. My best effort was winning a $10,000-to-win race at Tazewell, Tennessee."
In 2004, with Mach 2 Motorsports, there were about a dozen wins, and he also made the World 100 for the first time.
"It could have been something great, as I was leading the feature with only 20 laps to go when I had a flat tire," he says.
Still with Mach 2 in 2005, driving Rayburn cars, his best year in the Lates came with 15 wins, including a victory in the $26,000-to-win Jani-King Southern Showdown. Then there was a new track record set in qualifying at the World 100. Tough break number two at the World occurred in the feature, though, when he was running sixth and was taken out in a wreck.
Harrod Farms was the sponsor for last season and Owens got eight wins against tough competition in the Battle of the Bluegrass, Tennessee Thunder, and Southern Nationals groups. He got his best Eldora Dream finish of sixth after finishes of ninth and 11th the previous two years.
At the halfway point of the '07 season, running for Reece Monuments, Owens found success with the two top circuits-the World of Outlaws and the Lucas Oil Series. There was the making of another good season as he had 10 wins and several Top 5s. Included was a third place effort at the Circle K Colossal 100 at the Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Some of the cars Owens is driving this year were built by DLM superstar Scott Bloomquist.
The foundation for a successful Dirt Late Model career began in Street Stocks and Modified
"They are a lot quicker than what I'm used to and are more responsive," says Owens. "I have to use a different driving style with them, but Scott has been very helpful to me. I would also like to thank C.J. Rayburn for his help earlier in my career."
Amazingly, Owens is yet to be injured while racing. "My worst crash was in a Modified at Eldora when I took a direct hit in the driver's door," he says.
He likes the direction he sees when he looks at the Dirt Late Model sport. "We need to get as much TV as we can and keep getting the big special races."
A very humble guy, he adds, "I have been very fortunate through the years with the owners I have had and the guys that work for me on the cars. When I think about it, everything I have was made possible because of somebody else."
Owens' Dirt Late Model Pointers
As told to Bill Holder
If you are considering getting into Dirt Late Models, the place to start your learning process is in the Modifieds. They teach you to be patient by slowing down to go fast.
I am really not a fan of starting out with the Crate Late Models as a learning tool. There is so much more car than motor and I think you could pick up some bad habits. And for the real young drivers, I think that karts are a good initial race car. With those little cars, you can experience high speeds, plus the experience of driving in traffic.
No doubt about it, you have to understand the parts and pieces of your Dirt Late Model. You need to be able to explain the feel of the car and be able to relate it to your crew chief.
And finally, be able to work on your race car. If you look at the best drivers, most of them work on their own cars.