By Cole Cusumano
GLENDALE, Ariz. — March 11, 2021 will forever be a day remembered by Michael McDowell and one that’s immortalized in the state of Arizona. The Daytona 500 Champion made his triumphant return home for the first time since his milestone victory and was welcomed with open arms by his family as well as prominent authoritative figures in Glendale outside the town’s Civic Center.
McDowell pulled up in a Ford Mustang in synchronicity with Glendale’s Mayor Jerry Weiers, who emerged from a Ford GT prior to the afternoon festivities. With the Harley J. Earl trophy on display at the podium, Weiers addressed the media and loved ones in attendance with a proclamation granting the driver of the No. 34 a key to the city and a decree that March 11 will now be known as ‘Michael McDowell Day’ in Arizona.
“We have some incredible people from Glendale that are out doing all sorts of neat things, so as the Mayor I want to promote that as much as possible,” Weiers told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “I want people in Glendale to understand that opportunities are endless, and it only takes dedication and hard work to accomplish almost anything and anyone could do it, even if you’re from Glendale — maybe I should say more than anything, especially now that you’re from Glendale, you can do it.”
Mayor Weiers was watching the Great American Race when McDowell won, but was unable to celebrate like most. He had undergone quadruple bypass heart surgery days prior and was in the process of recovering when he witnessed the Glendale native eclipse the monumental achievement. His excitement and admiration didn’t wave during this difficult time.
McDowell admitted he was caught off guard after receiving these honors from hometown. He was aware there would be a celebration, but had no idea of the accolades that would follow.
“I did not know today that they were going to designate it as Michael McDowell Day,” McDowell told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “That was really special, not just for myself, but for my family as well. It’s humbling, too, at the same time to think that – this is a big deal and I know it – but to be a part of it is something that is very special.”
For both Weiers and McDowell, they hope this moment serves as a source of inspiration for the aspiring youth in Glendale.
“I know that when other people see this they’re going to go, ‘Wow,’ and sometimes that’s all it takes is just a spark,” Weiers said. “You don’t have to create the fire, but you can get an ember going and get that spark going in a young person to where they can start working towards a goal and it makes a big difference.”
McDowell’s name has been added to the list of outstanding individuals from Glendale who’ve risen their way into the spotlight like singers Jordin Sparks and Marty Robbins. While the 36-year-old may be the first Arizona native to win the Daytona 500, he didn’t shy away from giving credit to other racers from the area like Indianapolis 500 Champion Buddy Rice.
Although not considered a “racing pocket” like Charlotte, McDowell believes drivers in Glendale should garner more attention.
“There’s been other guys who’ve come up through this area that have had success, so I do think of it as a breeding ground for people that are going to have success in motorsports, even though it’s not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind,” McDowell said. “It’s neat to carry that torch and there’s a lot of great drivers that are coming up as well.
“It’s cool to see what the future holds.”
McDowell ended the day by go-karting with the next generation of racers from Glendale at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association — the same place he competed when rising through the ranks. With a win under his belt and three top-10s, he heads to his home track of Phoenix Raceway in hopes to supersede his career-best finish of 16th attained in 2020.
Following a surreal day and an outstanding performance thus far, confidence and optimism are at an all-time high for McDowell as the NASCAR Cup Series makes its fifth stop on the season in his home state.