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NASCAR vet Michael McDowell starts week in Scottsdale, ends in hospital

NASCAR driver Michael McDowell (right) answers questions during a promotional event in Scottsdale. (Photo by Madisen Carter/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s been quite a week for NASCAR veteran and Glendale native Michael McDowell.

On Tuesday, he hosted a fan event at Octane Raceway in Scottsdale to help promote the upcoming Bluegreen Vacations 500, set for Nov. 10 at ISM Raceway in Avondale.

On Friday, he was in the hospital after suffering severe back and side pain. He was diagnosed with a kidney stone — which he passed, reported — and was able to return to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Friday afternoon’s Cup qualifying session.

McDowell has been racing in the NASCAR Cup Series for 12 years. With 285 starts, McDowell has had six career top-10 finishes, with his best in 2017 when he came in fourth.

When he is not racing, he is happy to promote his sport.

Although there has been much discussion this year about NASCAR attendance declining in recent years – it’s 2018 average regular-season attendance of 67,100 was an 11-year low, reported the Las Vegas Review-Journal – Arizona continues to exhibit strong support.

Last November, ISM Raceway announced that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race grandstand seats sold out. For this year’s Bluegreen Vacations 500, ISM Raceway announced that it has sold out of the traditional campsites two months before the event in November.

“There’s no secret that we have gone to some areas where we have less, you know, butts in the seats, but this is not one of them,” McDowell said. “It hasn’t been for years. I’ve been racing in the Cup Series for 12 years now and Phoenix has always sold out.”

Fellow NASCAR driver Casey Mears was also at Tuesday’s fan event. He moderated a Q&A for McDowell and even raced against fans in the go-karts along with McDowell. Mears said the fans in Arizona are passionate about the sport and that it’s always fun to be around them.

“There probably aren’t as many fans as there probably are back east, but the ones that are here are very passionate and have been doing it for a long time,” Mears said. “I think since I’ve been coming out here there’s been a ton of fans that have always loved and enjoyed coming out this way.”

Events such as Tuesday’s is one way for NASCAR to keep fans wanting to watch and support the sport. ISM Raceway President Julie Giese said that the fans are the key to the business and that ISM Raceway is always trying to find ways to engage them and make them a part of events.

Sofia Chacon, 14, said she has been going to races since before she was born and that being a NASCAR fan is a family tradition. She and her family attended the event and she said her favorite part was that she was in front of Mears for a little bit during the go-kart race.

“(The race) was really fun,” Chacon said. “I come to (Octane Raceway) like every Tuesday, so it was fun to race with new people and see how they run their lines.”

Giese said it’s important to give back to the fans, especially the season ticket holders, and to give them an experience they don’t get every day.

“Being able to come out and go racing with Michael McDowell and go racing with Casey Mears, it’s just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them,” Giese said. “They’re the reason that we get to do what we do every day.”

McDowell said the event was a great way for him to say thank you to dedicated fans. Some have had season tickets for more than 50 years and McDowell said he enjoyed being able to celebrate with them.

“Coming home here is always special,” McDowell said. “I have a great group of fans here and a lot of support, hometown support.”

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