Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman raced to the checkered flag at Richmond Raceway on Sunday afternoon, notching his first NASCAR win in the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro. He dedicated the win to team member William “Rowdy” Harrell and his wife, Blakley, who tragically passed away in an automobile accident in the Florida Keys last November.
An emotional Bowman spoke to Fox Sports’ Jamie Little after the race and talked about his history at short tracks and how “he drives them all wrong.” He then fought back tears while talking about reaching Victory Lane for the first time after losing two people close to him.
“This one is for Rowdy and his family. Miss him and Blakley every day,” Bowman said. “It means the world to be able to win for Ally. It’s emotional, obviously, with how hard the offseason was on us.”
Bowman and the No. 48 team are honoring Rowdy and Blakley all season with a special decal under one of the headlights. According to 247Sports, the decal also honors Bryce Whitson, an aerodynamics engineer for HMS who died of leukemia in August.
Harrell was an important part of HMS and Bowman’s previous two wins
A former three-time national champion with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Harrell spent eight years with Hendrick Motorsports as a tire carrier. He spent the 2018-2020 seasons working with Bowman as the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet and Greg Ives as the crew chief.
“Our entire team is absolutely devastated at the loss of Rowdy and Blakley,” Ives said in a November release via HMS. “They were such positive, giving and passionate people who could not have been a more perfect match. Rowdy had an energetic and infectious personality. He was the heart and soul of our team and always kept us motivated, no matter the circumstance.
“Rowdy shared his love with the people around him and was loved in return. Although he will be greatly missed, his memory will continue to inspire us always. Our prayers are with Rowdy, Blakley and their wonderful family.”
In addition to working with Bowman, Rowdy also served as the tire carrier for two NASCAR Hall of Famers. According to AutoWeek, he was the tire carrier for Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the 2014 Daytona 500 win, and he also worked with Jeff Gordon during the 2016 season.
Rowdy joined the NASCAR world in 2013
As the former walk-on linebacker neared his graduation in 2013, he prepared to make a career change. According to AutoWeek, scouts told Rowdy that he was too small for the NFL, so he began planning for a career in strength and conditioning. However, a unique opportunity surfaced.
Chris Burkey, a former scout for Nick Saban during his time with the Miami Dolphins, had moved to NASCAR and become a pit-crew coordinator for HMS. Burkey held an open tryout for his over-the-wall team, and he reached out to Saban. The national championship-winning coach presented the opportunity to Rowdy and set him on the path to becoming a key figure in NASCAR.
Rowdy won the open competition and became the newest member of the HMS team. He started his career as a backup tire changer for both Cup and Xfinity Series teams but soon became a key part of the No. 88 crew. Although Rowdy acknowledged to AutoWeek that he had a steep learning curve during the first three months. After working with the coaches, he was comfortable and ready to play an important role.