Every racer would like to end the season with a victory. However, not every racer would want their season to end in the way National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame member Dale McDowell ended his 2021 campaign.
McDowell won his final start as he beat the field to the checkered flag in a Southern All-Star Dirt Racing series feature at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tennessee in late September to earn a $7,500 payday. Not long after that, though, the Chickamauga, Georgia native found himself on an operating room table having surgery to remove a cancerous prostate.
“They say you’re only as good as your last race. I feel pretty good about that,” the 2005 winner of the World 100 said with a chuckle. “Anyway, it’s a tough group down there. The competition level is really unbelievable on the Late Model side of things. We’ve got good stuff for this weekend. We’re carrying an older engine package and some stuff like that.”
While the Shane McDowell Racing team may be employing an older engine package this weekend, a fresher power plant is waiting to be installed at a later date.
“We’ve got a new engine and some other stuff to expand our competitive level,” the driver pointed out. “It may take us a little bit. Last year we struggled down there a little bit, they changed dirt from the previous year so it threw us a little bit of a curveball as it did most of the guys that had had success there. I think they’ve changed dirt again but it is what it is, it’s the same for everybody. We’ll just have to adjust to it.”
The 55-year-old racer has been given what amounts to a clean bill of health by his physicians. And perhaps most importantly, his life is about to regain a degree of normalcy as his team prepares to hit the track at the Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida this weekend for the opening set of races for the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series.
“I’m feeling good, probably not back 100% yet, but I’m close,” McDowell said in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “I’m actually ahead of schedule on the health side of things is what the doctor says. I’m ready to go and I’m ready for a little normalcy back in my life. The last three or four months have had a lot of abnormal but it is what it is. I’ve been blessed to get through it and I’ve had a lot of good people to help me along the way to lean on and ask questions so it’s not all bad.”
While there are still some things left to do as far as his health is concerned, the ‘Mac Daddy’ hopes to be at his best in a short time.
“I think normal protocol is that I have to go back every three months for a year just to make sure,” he explained. “Mine(cancer) was all contained so I didn’t have to have radiation or chemo. I’m having some of the typical things that guys fight through like testosterone levels being low. I’m not boasting with energy so to speak but hopefully after six months I can get all of that stuff back to normal. I feel good now but I should start having more energy soon. I’ve just got to get back to normal things, normal daily activities, and that shouldn’t be too far down the road now. I think we’ve got the worst behind us.”
The 2021 Schaeffer’s Oil Spring Nationals champion says he and brother/owner/crew chief Shane plan to return to business as usual as far as their racing program goes. The same Team Zero Race Cars the operation used last season will be in use at the beginning of this campaign.
“I think we’re going to go ahead,” McDowell pointed out. “We don’t usually run a lot of SpeedWeeks stuff. We usually just go to Volusia so we’re going down there for this weekend to see how we’re going to be and to see how I’m going to be. I haven’t been in a car for four months so we’ll go down there and race for three days. Shane’s got everything ready. He’s had time to work on other stuff and time to refurbish our stuff so he’s been busy. I’m anxious to get going and see where we are.”
The half-mile track can sometimes be demanding physically which could prove to be a challenge for a driver who has been sidelined for months. However, McDowell is ready to get back behind the wheel of his No. 17m machine and face whatever challenges may come.
“It is physical down there when its got some speed to it. We ran third down there one night last year, that was our best finish in SpeedWeeks, and it was really physical that night. That is going to be a challenge simply because I’ve been limited to what the doctors have wanted me to do for the healing process. But there’s no better time to get started. There’s a lot of races coming up early in the year. I’m pretty much cleared to do anything I want to do so we’ll get back going. There’s no better way to get back in shape than to get out there and play in a race car.”
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