Third Generation Tire Guy Becomes a NASCAR Champion

June 1, 2020

"Penske Material" provides an inside look at some of the personalities, stories and moments that make Team Penske so unique. 

So, how does a guy from Fowler, Kansas end up becoming a NASCAR Cup Series Champion tire carrier? “Hard work and determination and taking a chance on something I originally thought was a joke,” said Dylan Dowell.

Penske MaterialDowell didn’t take the traditional path to a career on NASCAR’s competitive pit road. While many of the top athletes on pit crews had collegiate athletic experience, Dowell got his training changing tractor tires in a Kansas field.

“I’m what you’d call a third generation tire guy,” Dowell said with a laugh. “My family owned a tire business and after high school, even during, I made a living changing tires in a 100-mile radius of Fowler. We actually hired a guy who was a huge NASCAR fan and he’s the one who told me I should be on a pit crew. I thought it was the craziest thing I’d ever heard. Fortunately, it was enough to plant a seed and I did some research, flew out to Mooresville and met with Bob Plott at the Pit School. The more he talked and the more I learned, the better it started to sound. So I went back to Kansas, saved some money for about four months and packed up a bag of clothes, my dog and headed out to North Carolina. I didn’t even really have a place to live.”

Dowell certainly has the appearance of someone who could compete in any sport. With a graduating class of 13 students and a total high school enrollment of 89, he was a multi-sport athlete. “We had good peer pressure in Fowler. If we didn’t all play all the sports, we didn’t have a team and you didn’t want to be the guy who let everyone down,” said Dowell. “So I played football, basketball, ran track and did powerlifting. After high school, I kept working out and lifting weights because it helped me with my job. I’m thankful I did because it certainly helped when I got to the Pit School.”

Long-time Team Penske pit crew coach Trent Cherry had ventured over to the Pit School to seek out a new tire changer, which he found in Hunter Masling, who currently serves as the front tire changer for Joey Logano in the NASCAR Cup Series. But the barrel chested, athletic Dowell jumped off the page to Cherry and he invited him to Team Penske for a tryout and interview.

“I got the call and went up to Team Penske to meet with Trent and do my first workout. As it turned out, Joe Piette, who’s now at Team Penske, called me to try out at Stewart Haas Racing as well,” said Dowell.  “But Team Penske made me an offer and the situation felt right, so by 2012 I was pitting a Brad Keselowski Racing truck and they started letting me work with other teams so I could get live experience.”

While he was quick to get an opportunity with one of racing’s top organizations, the road from entry level pit crew member to the top level of the sport can be a long one. So Dowell had to find work outside of his pit road obligations to make ends meet.

“I’d work at Team Penske after pit stop practice gluing up lugnuts for the next day. Then I’d literally run to my car so I could make it to my job at Discount Tire on time,” said Dowell. “I worked at Discount Tire for about two seasons while I was in the development program. The people at Discount Tire treated me so well, beyond anything I’d have ever expected. They worked around my hectic schedule at Team Penske and were always understanding. It was a great place to work.”

Team Penske Dowell Tire Dowell continued to make the most of his opportunities with Team Penske and in 2013, he was on the stage celebrating a NASCAR Xfinity Series Owner Championship with the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang team.

“We won 12 races that year with four different drivers. It was an incredible season and awesome to be a part of,” said Dowell.

Through 2013, Dowell also served as a backup crew member for the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Cup Series team with driver Joey Logano. However, at the start of the 2014 season, Dowell moved from development and backup to center stage becoming the front tire carrier on the team under crew chief Todd Gordon. The No. 22 team would go on to win four races that season and qualify for the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The team fell short of its championship goal in 2014, but entered the 2015 season with a bang, winning the Daytona 500. “That was a huge moment and things were really building on themselves at that point. I’d won a Xfinity Series championship, qualified for the Championship Four my first year on the Cup side and then we come out and win the Super Bowl of NASCAR races,” said Dowell. “I remember just going out on the finish line with the pit crew after the race and we all just stood there looking around and reflecting on all the history and the people who’d won this race.”

Dowell and the team reached the Championship Four in 2016, but again came up just shy of winning the title, finishing second in the season standings. Nevertheless, the transformation of a young man from the middle of nowhere Kansas continued and Dowell made it back to the Cup Series pinnacle in 2018 with the Shell-Pennzoil Ford crew.

“In 2018, it was the first year of the five-man pit stop and we really seemed to click with it right off the bat,” said Dowell. “I went from front tire carrier to the only tire carrier and the game really changed. Add to it we had a change at the fueler position and got Ray ‘Goose’ Gallahan back on our crew to assume gas man duties and that was really the spark that started a major uptick on our pit road performance. He quarterbacked us all the way to Miami.”

Team Penske ChampionshipAccording to Dowell, no pressure compares to the pressure of championship weekend. “Every stop has to be perfect. One bad stop can put you in a spot where you can’t recover. That night, we were as close to perfect as we could be. When we got the late caution, it brought the money stop and there isn’t another place I’d have rather been. Slapping that big piece of tape on the nose and sending Joey back out to win the championship for Team Penske, it was a surreal night and one I’ll never forget. That’s the ultimate.”

Away from the track, Dowell owns a drag car that he built, inspired by having Hot Wheels cars as a kid.

Dowell Drag Car“Hot Wheels cars were always ridiculous,” said Dowell. “Tiny wheels, big motors and pipes sticking out from the hood. So that’s really where I got the inspiration for my car. I bought a 1962 Ford Falcon and it literally was a shell. I bought it for $300. From there I built it with mostly used parts, stripped it down, put floor pans in it. It has a 460 cubic inch big block Ford engine. It’s absolutely a fun car to drive down to the gas station and it’s a hell of a conversation piece. I love the old school hot rods and that’s what this is. I’ve made some great friends along the way. I don’t spend a lot of money on it. I fabricate parts in my garage and lean on other friends with various talents, but it’s absolutely a ton of fun.”

As Dowell has transformed from changing tractor tires, to Discount Tire, to NASCAR Champion, he has also emerged as a quiet leader. As he works on the No. 21 Ford Mustang in the Cup Series and the No. 22 Team Penske Mustang in the Xfinity Series, his teammates know that Dowell is always ready to listen and help with whatever they need, using the experience of his long road to the highest level of NASCAR competition as a guide.