Economic hard times have slammed almost everyone in the Rim Country, including amateur race car drivers.
For evidence look no further than Payson businessman Bob Lowery, 59, who was enjoying a highly successful racing career before several of his much-needed sponsors, including three in Mexico, withdrew their support.
Without their assistance, Lowery was forced to park his Formula Mazda Series Championship race car and not compete for almost three years.
Only a few months ago, however, Lowery found the sponsor he was scrambling for when owners of J.J.’s Cantina in Rocky Point, Mexico offered to assist.
“He (Lowery) finally got a break, J.J.’s not only put up the money to race ... they will also be one of his sponsors in 2010,” said Craig Hagaman, one of two members of Lowery’s pit crew.
With the new sponsor helping him foot a racing bill that can run as high as $2,000 a weekend, the Payson man returned Nov. 28 and 29 to Firebird Raceway for an American Speed Association (ASA) racing series.
The time away from the track apparently didn’t hurt Lowery’s driving skills as he raced to two victories over the course of the weekend.
Because the races were for double points, he also earned a first-place finish in the ASA overall points standing.
Lowery’s first victory was recorded on opening day in a 75-minute Enduro on Firebird’s 1-1/2 mile track.
The following day, Sunday, he sped his way to a victory in a 30-minute feature race.
During the two races, he flew around the course at speeds exceeding 150 mph.
But speed wasn’t the only contributing factor in the victories.
“I give credit to my pit crew (Lee Heubner and Hagaman),” Lowery said. “They were a big help all weekend and we had the fastest pit stop of any car in the races.”
The quick pit stop took 4 minutes and 21 seconds, which seems long in Indianapolis 500-style races. But, Hagaman explains the pit stops in Mazda Formula events are much different than Indy-style races.
“We have to take the driver out, take the cowling out, fuel the car, put the cowling back on and the driver back in his seat,” he said.
For the races Lowery drove his Mazda race car, which is three-quarters of the size of a Formula I race car. It weighs about 1,350 pounds and is powered by a 180-horsepower rotary engine.
Those who closely inspect the car will notice that on the hood, directly in front of the driver, is inscribed, “In Loving Memory of Kayla Floyd and Stevie McDowell.” The two teenagers were killed in auto accidents years ago and were longtime family friends of Lowery.
“When you live in Payson as long as I have, you make some good friends, and that’s what the two and their families were to me,” Lowery said.
The best hope of the Payson racing team is that the gold medal showings at Firebird will help the crew attract even more sponsors for the upcoming season.
“Bob won the 2006 ASA Formula Mazda Series Championship and would like to do it again in 2010,” Hagaman said.
“Those wins could help pick up some sponsorships from Mexico.”
Too young to compete
Although Lowery is now well known in state racing circles, his career didn’t get off to a legitimate start.
“I wanted to race as a kid, but I wasn’t old enough and my dad wouldn’t sign (a parental release) for me,” he said. “So my neighbor signed and said he was my father.”
Lowery said he continued to race illegally, in a 1958 Buick stock car, until his dad found out about it and “he kicked my butt.”
The neighbor, who forged the parental consent, also helped young Lowery build the stock car.
“He was really into racing,” Lowery said.
The Payson man began his career even earlier — racing go-carts and sprint cars before he was of age and could race legally.
On Labor Day 2002, Lowery turned in one of his finer performances racing to a first-place finish in the Open Wheel division of the St. Johns Grand Prix. For that event he drove a Ralt RT-5 Formula Atlantic Car.
He also won first place in the truck diesel drag with his Ford F-250.
He calls that win especially thrilling because he out lead-footed the much younger racers who had shown up to show off their lightning-quick cars and trucks.
At the time, he was 52 years old.
Lowery’s interests, however, have sometimes included more than racing. In 1977, he chopped, sawed and climbed to the All-Around championship of the Payson Loggers Festival.