Women in NASCAR: Jami McDowell Talks About Family, Faith, Friends, and of course, Winning at Daytona.

Photo Courtesy of Ford Performance
Jami is the wife of Michael McDowell, who currently drives the No. 34 car for Front Row Motorsports. In his 358th career start, McDowell scored his first Cup Series win in the 2021 season-opening Daytona 500. She graciously spoke with Skirts and Scuffs' Lisa Nellis by phone on April 6, 2021. 

Hi, Jami, it’s great to finally get to talk to you! Thank you for doing this today. I just have a few questions for you for our website SkirtsandScuffs.com, where we have a column called “Women in NASCAR.” Not just drivers, but any female who has an affiliation with NASCAR.

I know that you and Michael have a lot of kids; I think you have four, right,? And they're all fairly young. So what are they doing during quarantine? Are they homeschooling?

Jami: Our kids go to school full-time, but we do a co-op type school, the University model. They go to school three days a week, and they have in-person learning, then two days a week I homeschool them. That's the model that the school does, they are not doing this because of COVID. So my kids will always be home with me for two days, and it gives a chance for Michael and I [sic] to be more involved in their education and gives us some freedom. One of our homeschool days is Friday, so when we do start traveling again more with Michael, that gives us the freedom where we can just pick up and go. I don’t have to worry about them being pulled out of school early.

That actually sounds like something I would have loved to have done as a kid! So have you been or will you be able to make any races this year? You know, 2020 was just really bizarre and unprecedented.

Jami: This year, we as a family attended the Daytona Road Course, of course a week too late (laughs), but unfortunately missed the Daytona 500. We do plan to travel with Michael this summer, but are just kind of waiting and seeing what NASCAR is able to do, whether they can open up more and whatnot. We’re grateful that we are allowed to take the kids again; you know we're really looking forward to some more of those freedoms as we had before at races. To come out and actually watch the races and not be in the motor home all the time. When that happens, we’ll plan to be back on the road with Michael as we were before.

I’m definitely looking forward to that as well; we're going to our first in-person race in a long time Saturday night in Martinsville. We're lucky that we got tickets because they're all sold out. That's the first real event that we've done in a long time. So does the McDowell family live in North Carolina or do you live elsewhere?

Jami: We’re here in North Carolina, around the Kannapolis area.

Do your kids play any extracurricular sports or things like that or does traveling prohibit that?

Jami: Our kids don’t do organized sports, but until COVID we gave the kids a choice every year, and they choose not to. Each year we reevaluate if this lifestyle is working out for us, does it work out for our kids, are we hindering them from having somewhat of a normal childhood? Whenever we ask our children, "You know you miss out on lots of birthday parties and things like that, does it bum you out?" But they just prefer to be at the track with their dad, with everything going on there. 

Each of our children has been at the racetrack since they were weeks old, so that's what they know, that's their life, and that's what they love. Racing NASCAR has really created this very strong family unit for us, and that's what they want, to be together as a family every day. They like when all six of us are present together in a place. So they don't want to stay home and play baseball or whatever, they want to be with him. 

They have a great community at the track with their friends and other drivers’ kids, so they look forward to having a good time with those kids. So for my kids, they don't have a lot of interest in doing organized team sports. But my girls take gymnastics, and we do that during the week. The boys are interested in golfing, so they get golf lessons. We do things during the week, but not organized sports that do things every Saturday or Sunday.

Team sports really would be hard in your situation. I know you and Michael are from Arizona; do you have a favorite track that's not Phoenix? (Laughter.)

Jami: I am always kicking myself for saying this: It’s two-fold. I love Talladega. As a wife, superspeedways are super difficult for me; it brings a lot of extra nerves, and it’s such a risky, more dangerous race. There are always big wrecks, all those wrecks, right? But it’s a great opportunity as a smaller team like my husband’s to run up front, to fight for those wins. We saw it at Daytona. He’s been running up front for several years now and been in position at the end, and it finally paid off, as you know. So those kinds of tracks give us opportunities which is exciting for us, and the racing is usually pretty good. 

Also, Talladega is very family-friendly, and it really brings out the community. The way the driver-owner lot is set up, it really allows... we all just come out and we have so much companionship. The kids will be out on the playground. The ministry that travels with us, [Motor] Racing Outreach, typically holds an event for the drivers and crew chiefs, so I feel like we really experience a good community where relationships are building and growing there and that's exciting. That’s what Michael and I are really about. These are the people that we live our lives with, week in and week out. So I like Talladega for all of those reasons.

That sounds like a lot of fun, I've never been there, but I've always wanted to go! Speaking of the racing relationships, are there any particular families that you're a little more friendly with than others, I mean do you have a little group or anything, just in general?

Jami: Sure I mean we have our little circle of friends; it really stems from Michael and building those relationships with drivers, and there's a group of drivers that meets and has a Bible study, and I’ve started a women’s Bible study with those drivers' wives. So then we build relationships with those drivers who are interested in growing in their faith and coming together and doing life together and so we've grown closer to some of those couples. We spent a lot of time with the Amirolas, and obviously the Ragans. David was a teammate of Michael’s for a couple years before he retired; we were friends with him even before but being teammates brought us really closer together with the Ragans, and there's a couple of families within racing that we spend time with, so yeah you certainly grow closer to certain people, for sure.

Awesome. My husband will love to hear about the Bible study groups. OK, I think I just have one last question. Well, actually I have two because obviously I have to ask you about Daytona, but I'll save that for last. So if you ever do have any free time, which I know with having four kids it's probably really tough to get, what's your favorite thing to do just for yourself?

Jami: You know, I really love working out. I belong to a gym here that’s like its own little community, and I really love to go there and just be with other women, just encouraging each other and lifting each other up and getting that workout in. It really helps me out. I get all the highs from the workout, it releases all the endorphins and helps me deal with all that “Mommy stress” so that's one thing that's a priority, and I really love to do. And then our youngest finally started kindergarten this year, so things are changing as far as that goes. I'm experiencing what it’s like to actually have a little extra free time with all four kids in school, so Michael and I have enjoyed having some of those free days to ourselves. We are just finding some things that we would enjoy doing together. So, yeah, I love to spend time with my husband — that one-on-one time.

All right. So I have to ask you about Daytona and you just confirmed that you and the family weren’t able to be there, unfortunately. What was that like overall? I mean, you knew Michael was going to win a race sooner or later, right? I hope he still felt the same. He just seemed so happy. What was your first reaction? I'm sure you were watching, but I don’t know if you were because it was so late...

Jami: Yes! I was absolutely watching. You know there's plenty of races that I will admit I have fallen asleep to those rainouts. But not the end of Daytona and those high-stakes races. There's no way I can sleep watching that. Truth be told, it's not that I did not have faith in my husband. I know that he is perfectly capable of winning. I just started to wonder if God had it in the cards for us to win, if it was part of His plan and I always... I think I convinced myself that maybe He was protecting us from something that we couldn't see. There’s been so many times that Michael’s been so close to winning and I thought, "You know, I just I'm not sure that He has it in the cards for us to have wins."

But God is good, and God is faithful, and a couple years ago, my very good friend Ashton Bayne had challenged me to pray for the desires of my heart, because God already knew them, and that I was praying for the Lord to protect Michael, and His will will be done, and whatever the result was we would be happy with. Which is true, but I was definitely holding back that prayer for victory. And so with that challenge, I started praying over the last couple years that God would give Michael victory and so for a couple years, he's been really close he's led, he's run upfront, he’s been there in the end, and it just doesn’t work out. So this time I had been praying all day, and I talked to God all throughout the race, and I just praying that at the end He would put Michael right where he needed to be, that He would put him in the position to win the race.

So when he started on that last restart, and Joey and Brad were together up front, when they hit and got into it and split like that, I just literally looked up to my ceiling and said, “Is this real?” and so it was a shock for me I couldn't believe it — it was finally happening. There were a couple of seconds until they actually officially announced that he had won. I was holding on and holding my breath, but I'm not sure yet, they haven’t announced it, I think he was leading when they came out, but I can't be sure! It was very exciting. My daughter had woken up with the commotion from my TV, and me crying and then she got to see, and then we went down and woke up my oldest son to tell him. I let my littles sleep, I just let them sleep. I figured I would tell them in the morning. It was fun to celebrate with my kids, and my mom was at our house too, and we were all living on a high.

Where do you guys keep that trophy?

Jami: Oh, it’s in our entryway right when you walk in the door!

That’s great. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Jami. I love your Daytona story, and I really appreciate your time because I know you're a busy woman.

Jami: Thank you! 
Women in NASCAR: Jami McDowell Talks About Family, Faith, Friends, and of course, Winning at Daytona. Women in NASCAR: Jami McDowell Talks About Family, Faith, Friends, and of course, Winning at Daytona. Reviewed by laweez on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 Rating: 5