The voice on the other end of the phone is filled with youthful exhuberance and boundless energy. But it's also tinged ever slightly by a Southern accent that is clearly still in the development stages.
It's clear from the get-go that Alex Bowman isn't the poster boy for your father's NASCAR.
He calls Tucson, Ariz., home -- a world away from Daytona where the sport annually opens its season with race-crazy fans prominently displaying flags, license plates and clothing lines. His iPod is filled with Electronic Dance Music, Macklemore and The Otherside. It's music that the Nationwide Series' newest competitor is almost certain his fellow drivers have never heard of. Away from the track, Bowman surrounds himself with a different breed of people that don't fit in with a typical NASCAR crowd.
But living outside the box of everyone around him has always suited Bowman just fine, thank you.
"I'm definitely a little different," Bowman admits. "But I always think it's good to be different, to be unique and hopefully stand out from the rest of the crowd."
At only 19, the fresh-faced Bowman is only in his third year behind the wheel of a stock car. It's a reality that immediately puts him behind the curve as he enters his first season driving full-time on NASCAR's Nationwide Series.
If Bowman's name doesn't ring a bell, don't worry. He's used to it. Bowman's gotten used to the fact that he doesn't fit the profile of an up-and-coming superstar that racing teams are lining up get behind the wheel of one of their high-powered cars.
But in a sport attempting to turn the corner toward attracting a Twitter-crazed generation, that's precisely what made Bowman the perfect pioneer.
That's not only the case for RAB Racing with Brack Maggard, which this year has tossed the keys of its No. 99 Toyota Camry to the reigning ARCA Rookie of the Year.
But Bowman also has also sold himself on Daymond John, the 43-year-old entrepreneur who founded the FUBU clothing line and who is now fills one of the seats as a resident investors on the reality series, Shark Tank, which airs Friday nights on ABC.
For John, banking on NASCAR makes sense as a solid investment for his Shark Branding firm. But taking a chance on an out-of-the-box driver like Bowman is also good business, John insists, as a way of expanding stock car racing's appeal to a non-traditional audience.
"I find many, many things (about NASCAR) attractive," John says in a phone interview with ThePostGame. "I just needed to find the right way to be aligned with it in a way that made sense."
Enter Alex Bowman.
When Bowman announced to his friends back at Tucson's Ironwood Ridge High School that he had plans to make it big in NASCAR, the response was fairly predictable.
The West Coast isn't exactly a breeding ground for teenagers harboring hopes of making it a go of it at
breakneck speed. On the surface, Bowman seemed so normal, so laid back.
But then he broke the news to his buddies.
"You almost get laughed at in high school," Bowman says. "It's kind of like, ‘Whatever.'"
Bowman started racing short tracks in Arizona and California as a kid before shifting into stock cars when he was 17. In 2010, he survived a serious Midget car dirt track wreck when his car flipped 15 times. He sustained broken ribs, broken collarbone and punctured lung.
Five weeks later, he was back in the car.
But the accident that may have scared most novices out of getting behind the wheel again only prompted Bowman to hit the pedal on his racing career.
In his first full-time season on the ARCA series last year, Bowman became the first driver to win his first two career starts. He captured four checkered flags and 11 Top 5 finishes in a year when he led ARCA with the most laps led (554) and pole positions (six).
"It's probably the most fun I've ever had in a race car," Bowman says.
It wasn't long before others started to take notice.
RAB Racing was looking for a face to build its Nationwide program around. Bowman seemed like a good fit and the more he won, it was became evident that taking a chance on a new-generation driver could make perfect business sense.
It was clear to RAB owner Robbie Benton that the Bowman knew how to win. Here was this likable kid who made a good first impression on sponsors with money to spend on racing. Benton saw a racer with unlimited potential -- precisely what the Concord, N.C.-based team was looking for.
Not only did a driver 14 months shy of his 21st birthday give RAB a driver it believes can win in the Nationwide Series, but that makes Benton's team a player with new-school advertisers looking to put their brand on the side of a race car.
"To do that, you've got to get out in front of a very diverse group," Benton says. "I think Alex -- with his age, the generation he comes from -- is a little bit different than what we've done before."
"(The generation) is very technologically advanced and it's a little bit harder to appeal to a younger crowd. But that's what we're going to try to do."
Enter Daymond John.
Outside of a brief branding relationship with boxer Lennox Lewis, John had rarely ventured into the arena of sports business.
As a kid growing up in Queens, John took a liking to NASCAR and it's full-throttle appeal. But after a while, the sport became old and stagnant, leading him to turn his attention elsewhere.
John had a penchant for turning everything he touched into gold. He made a living out of taking calculated risk and for always being open to exploring new avenues begging for his branding expertise.
John, who flirted with Indy Car racing in 2005, decided racing -- this time with NASCAR -- was worth a second look. He saw a sport with widespread popularity and built-in fan base, and he knew that logo-filled cars sponsored by every business entity imaginable were part of the sport's culture.
If handled properly in manner others had ignored, NASCAR could be John's latest Golden Child.
He spoke with Jeff Foxworthy, the Southern-bred comedian who was convinced introducing NASCAR to a younger generation had genius written all over it. John had casual conversations with Dallas Mavericks owner and fellow Shark Mark Cuban, who suggested John take a long and hard look at giving sports branding a shot.
Cuban told John that like with the hip-hop culture that helped make John an entrepreneurial superstar, sports brought total people together. Sports could unite total strangers standing next to one another, connected by a common denominator.
"Half the time, you'll forget the game and who won and who lost," Cuban told John. "But you'll remember the great time. But it's a great thing when people come together and celebrate the same thing.
"That's what sports is all about."
He saw a chance to take NASCAR in a new direction, moving away from old-school sponsors and into a 21st century marketplace. His mind started to run.
What could a race car sponsored by smartphone apps, energy drinks and electronics and social media companies look like? What if he could create an image that appealed to young people, broadening auto racing's appeal beyond a demographic that has defined the sport for years?
But he needed a face and a personality to build around.
That's when he met Alex Bowman.
John could appreciate Bowman's non-traditional entrée into racing and the EDM beats that pounded through his ear buds. He saw a driver that not only possessed unlimited growth potential on the track, but that also connected with a new generation away from it.
If anyone could take John's Shark Branding racing interests in the right direction, the reality star believed, it was Bowman.
John, the bottom-line, thinking man's investor, was sold.
"It's a time when (NASCAR's) older guard is starting to get older and the younger kids are starting to come in there," John says.
"We realized that the product and the kid and the person were all amazing."
Bowman didn't know much about John the first time the two met. He had seen him on television and was immediately drawn to the fact that John had never really failed at anything he set his mind to. The idea of John jumping into NASCAR and branding a car with products Bowman could relate to made working with John a no-brainer.
But one fact remained: Bowman was still virtually an unknown commodity.
Despite his ARCA success, Bowman was still only a teenager still adjusting to certain aspects of stock car racing. He moved from Tucson to North Carolina after graduating from high school and was still trying to fit into a culture – both geographically and professionally – that he hadn't grown up with.
Yet, despite the uncertainty of Bowman's future, one thing stuck out to Benton and John. The kid had a certain marketability.
They both thought the same thing: Why not take a shot?
"People may wonder why did we bet on him," John says. "But if you do what everyone else is doing, you're going to get the lowest common denominator. We like to take the gamble on people and brands that we feel are exciting that not everyone else is clamoring toward."
As an American businessman, John had taken flak for when he backed Lewis, the British-born fighter. When John started shopping Kim and Khloe Kardashian around town to potential branding moguls, they politely declined, unconvinced the two sisters had any star power. He did the same with rapper Pitbull, pushing the potential for profitability only to have no one believe he was onto the next big thing.
John sees the same potential for Bowman.
"I've got a good history of taking people and products that I believe in and they become unstoppable," John says. "And Alex is going to be unstoppable."
For Bowman, that road begins this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.
After spending half of his ARCA rookie year considering what life at the next level could be like, he's now there. With a full-time ride with RAB Racing and the experience in running four Nationwide races last year, Bowman's ready to find his NASCAR niche.
Like he did when he first moved to North Carolina from his native Arizona, Bowman won't change who he is as a driver.
There will be differences to be sure. In the same way Bowman hasn't gotten completely used to see Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pass him on the road on a weekly basis, he understands being surrounded by big-name drivers on the track will take some getting used to.
But he'll still take the same approach he always has, hoping to take his success to a new level.
"To me, it's just another race," Bowman says. "Racing with Kyle Busch is the same to me as racing with Chris Buescher -- everybody's just another race car driver. I've got to learn what the guys on the Nationwide Series tendencies are and what they're going to do.
"But other than that, it's just another car. Just another race track. Just another race."
Benton said RAB Racing allows Bowman to operate in a lower-pressure environment than perhaps he would in a higher profile garage like the Joe Gibbs, Jack Roushes and Roger Penskes of the racing world.
While believing that it's only a matter of time before Bowman becomes a household name in the Nationwide Series, Benton will make sure early expectations remain realistic. But by building a team with equipment that Benton would pit against any other garages and around John's branding and Bowman's flair for beating the competition to the finish line, Benton believes he's got a formula for future success.
Daytona, with all of its unpredictability, will be a big first step for a young driver who's probably better suited to win in venues like Phoenix, Las Vegas, Bristol and California.
But for a new school driver who's never been afraid to be a little bit different, it also offers an instant proving ground. For Bowman, it represents the start of a journey he believes will lead to the dreams his high school friends back in Arizona always thought he was crazy for chasing after.
Then again, Bowman has never been the type to let what others think of him get in the way of what he feels like he is capable of achieving.
"I feel like I've kind of got to start over again a little bit," Bowman says. "Most of the guys out there probably have no clue of who I am and I think that's just part of it. I have to earn my respect from people just like I did in the ARCA series and in all the other race cars I've raced before.
"But we've got all of the pieces in place to go win races. Now we've just got to go make it happen."
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