For “Smilin” Joe Fowler, the sport of auto racing is about much more than speed and competition; it’s a thrill that goes beyond the cockpit of his no.19 Modified. For Joey, racing is about something much more important; family.
For over 30-years Joey, his wife Mary, their twin daughters Rochelle and Danielle, and their nephew Derick have made weekends fun with camping, activities, and entertainment all of which could be found at a local dirt track.
For the Fowlers, the time spent in the pits or in the grandstands is simply time spent together, and although the girls have married and moved away from their St. Charles, Michigan home they are never far from the rumble of a race engine on a summer weekend.
Joey now is a regular competitor with his son-in-law Brad Roberts (no.17) and his nephew Derek (no.21). And is cheered on by his youngest family members, his grandchildren; Tyler, Chase, Makayla, Morgan, and Mya and his great nephew; Landyn.
Even from the start, family played a big role in Fowlers racing endeavors; “All three of my brothers raced at some point and my dad and I would go everywhere watching”. After staying on the grandstand side watching, Joey was anxious to try his hand behind the wheel and even made an attempt to do so in the 1972 racing season, as he laughingly recalled, “My first race was supposed to be at Raceland Speedway in Oscoda, Michigan. But as I was waiting in lineup Jack Goodwin walked out in front of my car and said, ‘Son! Do you have a driver’s license?’ I looked at big Jack and said, ‘No Sir!’ He told me that I was done and that was that!”
That following season Joey finally got to take to the track and honed his skills on the Northeast Michigan dirt tracks of Raceland and Whittemore before taking on a new challenge in 1974. That season Joey branched out onto asphalt, “West Branch Speedway was an asphalt track that ran Friday nights, and in 1974 we raced the entire season there and incredibly enough won the championship…on asphalt! We ran Friday’s at West Branch and Saturday’s at Whittemore on the dirt, it was the same car and we didn’t think anything of it, just strapped in and went. We had a lot of fun during that time period!” exclaimed Joey.
Since beginning his career Fowler has competed in everything from 4-cylinders to Late Models and has proven himself to be a contender no matter the division, but much of his success has been found in the division in which he finds himself most at home, IMCA Modifieds. Joey has earned many track titles, Woodtic 100 championships (Merritt Raceway), and after 18-years of attempts he became the victor of the Great Lakes Nationals (Crystal Motor Speedway) all with his red and white no.19 Modified. Although the UMP sanctioning has been part of Fowlers pursuits, Crystal Motor Speedway and Tri-City Speedway now offer a full weekend of IMCA sanctioning close to home. The addition of Friday night competition has certainly shaped the course of Fowlers 2012 schedule, “IMCA is a lot more affordable, the money goes a lot further with less horsepower and more durable tires. For us the travel expenses are also decreased as it’s only 30-miles to Tri-City and 40-miles to Crystal” stated Joey.
Crystal Motor Speedway for years was the lone holdout in a state and region that had turned its back on IMCA in favor of running the more open UMP sanctioning. The reason behind Ron Flinn’s decision rested on the drivers and their budgets and as Fowler exclaimed, “I never thought it would make it, but Ron stuck with it and now the division is growing again”.
With a full field of Modifieds weekly at CMS Joey definitely has some stiff competition this season, but Fowler is no stranger to rising to a challenge. In 2011 Joe stepped back from a full time racing program, competing in only 10 events. Of those events, six were Michigan Dirt Cup Tour events paying $1500 to win. Average car counts on the traveling tour were around 50 per event. Although the competition was intense the challenge was one Fowler thrived on, “Running the tour allowed us to do the other things that we needed to do last summer, still race, and have fun with racing”. The best part of the tour for Joe was definitely its stop at Butler Motor Speedway, “We had wiped the car out the first week and it took us two weeks to even get the thing to roll again. But we came out that next Dirt Cup event at Butler and won…That was just huge for us!”
The comical checks and double checkered flags that accompany the most prestigious of events are not what makes for a great accomplishment in Joey’s eyes though; instead it is the events which have personal meaning that still fill him with emotion. In early 2006 motorsports lost a wonderful man in Joe Burch who suffered a heart attack and passed away while competing at the I-500 Snowmobile Race. In remembrance of Joe Mt. Pleasant Speedway hosts the annual Joe B Memorial, which Joey had honor of winning a couple years ago, “For us winning that Joe B Memorial was really big, everybody knew Joe and he was just a good guy so to win that race was really big for me!” exclaimed Joey.
With nearly 40-years of experience behind the wheel Fowler has enjoyed much success, but as he said with a grin, racing is still about one very important thing, “Winning! I come to win every night, I want to always be able to say to the fans ‘I’ll see you on the front stretch for pictures tonight!’ and know that it is a possibility. I know that I can’t win every night, but I come to the track hoping I will because that feeling of excitement when you get a victory, it just never goes away or gets old”.
For Fowler the sport of auto racing goes beyond the track; as the owner of Aero Racing Supply Joey’s weekday’s are also filled with all things motorsports. Along with being a supplier of racing parts Joey also still builds approximately eight race engines a year for his competition.
This year Fowler will be getting more time behind the wheel at his local tracks of Crystal Motor Speedway and Tri-City Speedway, but he isn’t chasing a points title at either locale allowing him to still compete in various special events and Dirt Cup races.
Wherever the remainder of the 2012 season takes Joey and his no.19, there is no doubt that when you come near the hauler you will find the “Indian Outlaw” with a big grin on his face and his family by his side.