The race car is an ominous black and green, parked behind a long black hauler. Scott Bloomquist wears a rigid glare as he leans over a tire, pushing a grooving tool through the rubber, studying his work and contemplating his tire options for tonight’s race.
Across the way, people have filed into the spacious aluminum grandstands at Virginia Motor Speedway, taking their seats for tonight’s Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event. Some come to see Bloomquist win; some hope fervently he’ll lose. All are keenly aware of his presence, perking up when the familiar No. 0 enters the track.
For 30 years Bloomquist has been a powerful figure in dirt-late-model racing. Controversial and brash, innovative and unique, he is equal parts showman, craftsman, psychologist and strategist. When the rest of the world sees black or white, he sees red, green, and maybe purple.
It is likely that in the modern history of short-track racing, no figure has been more polarizing or compelling as Bloomquist.
Born in Iowa and raised in California, he settled years ago in Mooresburg, Tenn. He finds himself at the threshold of a great milestone, with 499 feature wins to his credit. Number 500 is right around the corner, and although it won’t come tonight (he finished second) it will certainly come soon. He’s also on the verge of clinching his second-consecutive Lucas Oil series title, no small feat when you consider the powerful cast with whom he competes.
Bloomquist is an expert at saying and doing things to get into the consciousness of his competitors, and this year he seems to have stepped it up a notch. Win or lose, his post-race interviews have at times been outrageous, provoking powerful emotions from fans and fellow racers.
He might look up into a grandstand filled with boo-birds, flashing that broad grin and raising his arms in triumph.
“How’d you like that Tennessee ass-whipping?” he calls out, sending scores of people reaching for their blood pressure medication.
Most of the time fellow racers just smile at such things, but this year he has gotten under their skin a bit more than usual. Some grumble that such comments are a show of disrespect.
Bloomquist relishes the spotlight, and he isn’t the least bit shy about playing the role of the bad guy.
“When you’re the bad guy in the movie and 17 posses are chasing you, the movie is usually all about you,” he smiles.
Bad guy or not, Bloomquist today is the oil that lubricates the dirt-late-model machine. Yes, there are plenty of other great and worthy competitors; but the reality is that in the realm of capturing people’s imagination and inspiring them to buy tickets, he is without peer.
Privately, he is a bit dismayed when his fellow competitors complain that he is disrespecting them. He says he makes it a point not to publicly call out a competitor individually, because he says that truly is disrespectful.
The reality is that Bloomquist sees something that is lost on 99 percent of racers today, at every level and corner of the sport. He understands that racing needs an element of show business, the classic confrontation of good guy vs. bad guy. Somebody in today’s squeaky-clean sport has to wear the black hat, and he’s perfectly willing to do so.
Recently a fellow racer pointed out to Bloomquist that his “Tennessee ass-whipping” comment disrespected him and the rest of the field.
“Man, just you saying that tells me you don’t get it,” Bloomquist countered, shaking his head.
Amid all the complexities of the man, there is also the reality that his fiery rhetoric isn’t really an act. Bloomquist is an intense and fierce competitor, and you’re never going to get a huggy-feely warmth from him whenever he’s been beat. A stinging, direct interview is what you’re going to get, because that’s who he is.
You can send a junkyard dog to a snooty obedience school, but in the end he’s still a junkyard dog and he’s prone to growl and get nasty and maybe even bite somebody every now and then. It’s a disposition thing.
Bloomquist still has a lot of good years in front of him, and one thing is likely: no matter how it plays out, it will be on his terms. He’ll continue to be a colorful winner, and he’ll never be a graceful loser.
“Something I figured out a long time ago is that Scott has an entirely different way of looking at things, totally different than the rest of us would ever see it,” says four-time series champion Earl Pearson. “That’s never going to change.”