GAYLORD, Mich. — For 20 years Jimmy Owens has terrorized his competition; his smooth driving style mixed with his uncanny ability to run where nobody else dares is a lethal combination which has earned him the title of the Newport Nightmare.
With a schedule that spans from New York to Texas and Indiana to Florida, there is very little rest for the No. 20 team. Since moving into the late-model ranks Owens has been considered one of the nation’s best and it’s no wonder. The easy-going, down-to-earth Tennessee native has snatched up more of dirt-late-model racing’s crown jewels than many of the sport’s revered veterans
Although Owens is a four-time UMP National Modified Champion (1998, 2000, 2001, 2002), a two-time North/South 100 winner (2007 and 2010), the World 100 victor in 2007, and the winner of the 2009 Dream 100; he has continued to keep his drive and determination while enjoying the ride.
Growing up in the Owens family meant weekends at the race track. Jimmy’s interest was sparked by his brother and father who both competed at a local level. Jimmy couldn’t resist the urge either and in 1991 he strapped into a street stock and won his first race at Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway. From there Owens began what has become an amazing career.
In 1995 he made the transition into modifieds and instantly took to the cars despite all the differences. Soon Owens was using all of his vacation days at TRW Valve to travel to UMP modified shows in Indiana and Ohio. When the opportunity presented itself for Jimmy to take a voluntary layoff the timing couldn’t have been better and with the time to run for a national title Owens captured four in just a five-year span.
From there came offers to run various late models on occasion, and then came the offer of a lifetime from Mike Reece with a ride in the Reece Monument Co. Bloomquist chassis.
When Owens first strapped into his No. 2 street stock he never would have believed that 20 years later he would be paying the bills with the earnings of his hobby.
“Racing for a living is just a dream come true,” he said. “I never thought I’d be doing this, when I was running street stocks I wanted to run modifieds and then I wanted to run late models. I wanted to progress, but on the other hand it didn’t really matter if I did because I loved what I was doing. I was just really fortunate to have people noticing us and giving us opportunities.”
In the years since he was a weekly competitor, Jimmy and his longtime friend and crew chief Chris Fox have worked through the highs and lows of any form of motorsports, and the recent successes with back to back second-place Lucas Oil Late Model series points finishes have solidified that fact that the No. 20 team thrives on the challenge of remaining consistent.
For Owens, the thrill of stringing together a successful season outweighs a few good runs, because of this his UMP Modified National Championships are accomplishments that Owens still recalls with a smile, “The biggest memory in my mind was the UMP Nationals race at Eldora for the modified championship in 2002. It came down to the wire with Mikey Marlar and I racing for the points title. I had to win the race and Mike had to run fourth or worse…We started the feature side by side and I was able to get up on the wheel and then I got the lead and won it on the last lap, making me finish six points ahead for the championship”
Even though Owens is still loving life in the fast lane, he is now also enjoying the moments he gets some down time. Two and a half years ago he and Melissa welcomed their son Nathan into the world, “When you think you’re happy just have a kid and realize how happy you weren’t. It just turns your world around and is amazing,” he says.
When it comes to Nathan he is definitely following in his dad’s footsteps, “A few weeks back we won a race down in Cleveland and I let Nathan ride in the car with me back to the pits and when we got to the trailer he just kept saying, ‘Daddy More.’ Now every time I take off in the car without him he has a fit so he’s definitely already got the fever so I am thinking that when he is done trying to hunt dinosaurs in the backyard which is his new thing…that he is going to want to race.”
From the smile on Jimmy’s face it is evident that life is going well. “I’m where I want to be. Everything that we have going on right now, I just couldn’t ask for more,” he acknowledges. “There is no doubt that when we come to a track we are there to win, but when you have love and passion for what you’re doing, and a great crew backing you it really relieves the pressure. I want to win, but just being out there going in circles is what I want to do.
“If the day comes when I can’t do this then I’ll go run a street stock again. I really will be that guy. The one out on the track that everybody is saying, ‘He just needs to give it up,’ but I will be having fun.”