When Jamie Fowler turned on the final-round win light on Saturday night at the PDRA Red Line Oil Carolina Nationals at Darlington Dragway, he fulfilled a lifelong dream to win a major drag racing event. He became the latest first-time winner in Elite Top Sportsman, defeating teammate and 2021 world champion Buddy Perkinson in the final round. Making the win that much sweeter was the fact it came at his home track on the tour, as well as the home track for his sponsor, Pee Dee Fleet, and his engine builder, Fulton Race Engines.
“When you’ve worked so hard and tried so hard to accomplish something, and the moment that it does happen, it’s surreal,” Fowler said. “I was in shock. It took a few minutes for it to sink in. When I crossed the finish line and Buddy and I hit the return road, I sat in my car for a few minutes and just had to reflect for a moment. It was surreal that it had just happened.”
After qualifying No. 8 in his nitrous-fed, Fulton 903-powered Pee Dee Fleet/LAT Racing Oils ’69 Camaro, Fowler had a first-round single when Tim Lawrence wasn’t able to make the call. Still, he ran a 3.897 on a 3.89 dial-in. In the second round, 2017 world champion Dewayne Silance went red by .0004, allowing Fowler to move on with his .002 light and 3.841 on a 3.87 dial-in. Fowler was .002 again in the semifinals, laying down a 3.843 on a 3.83 dial-in to beat 2018 world champion and points leader Donny “Hollywood” Urban’s 3.809 on a 3.81 dial-in.
“When we first started this thing and said we were going to run with the PDRA, I wanted to test myself and my ability to run with the best in the world,” Fowler said. “Everybody knows that the PDRA has the fastest door cars on the planet, even in the Top Sportsman ranks. We’ve had highs and we’ve had lows and there were definitely times that I doubted myself and wondered, ‘Hey, am I racing outside my league? Are these guys above my league? Can I just not run with these boys?’
“I think Saturday night solidified that we can run with these guys, we’re gonna run with these guys, and we’re gonna make a statement,” Fowler continued. “We’re not just going to be a class filler. We’re going to be here and we’re going to compete just like everyone else. This just let us know that we are where we’re supposed to be.”
After knocking down a pair of world champions, Fowler had to prepare for a final-round meeting with Perkinson, who set up and tunes Fowler’s Camaro, which was formerly campaigned by Chris Rini in Pro Nitrous.
“It worked out in qualifying that Buddy qualified No. 1 and I qualified No. 8, so we knew that our paths would not cross unless we both got to the finals, which is great for both teams,” Fowler said. “We don’t want to be running each other early in the race. Buddy came over right before the finals, looked at the tuneup, looked at the motor, and checked everything out and said it’s healthy and ready to go. He and I looked at each other and he says, ‘You’re gonna have to earn it.’ And I agreed. I said, ‘Buddy, I don’t want it if I don’t deserve it.’ So he and I shook hands and we loaded up and went to the starting line.”
Fowler was first off the line with a .004 to Perkinson’s .015. Perkinson got to the finish line too soon with a 3.708 on a 3.72 dial-in, while Fowler posted a 3.842 on a 3.83 dial-in to get the win.
“At the end of the track, Buddy got out of his car and we had a moment down there where there was nobody but me and him,” Fowler said. “He just gave me a hug and told me he was proud of me. I greatly appreciate the mentorship and everything Buddy has taught me in the past few years. It just speaks volumes about his character. I’m greatly appreciative of that. I don’t think I can ever repay that. I wanted to get that win and show Buddy that he hasn’t been wasting his time by working with me.”
Knowing he had to face off against some of the toughest Top Sportsman racers in the country made the win that much more rewarding for Fowler, who raced Top Sportsman in the early 2000s before stepping away to focus on his family with wife Kelly. He returned in 2017 in PDRA Top Sportsman, eventually moving up to the Elite Top Sportsman class, which takes the 16 quickest cars in qualifying.
“I don’t believe there’s a lot of people out there who don’t realize the caliber of these cars,” Fowler said. “It is a huge accomplishment, not only financially, but talent-wise as well, to compete at this level. You’re bracket racing at over 200 mph in less than 4 seconds. If you want to race with these guys, you’ve gotta be on your game. If not, they will send you packing early. There’s a reason it’s the Elite.”
Fowler, who grew up in a wheelchair due to paralytic polio, has worked with Perkinson all season to get his new car worked out. He’s suffered first-round losses at the first four races of the season, then had to sit out the Martin, Michigan, race because he had hurt his engine and had the car in for repairs at Jerry Bickel Race Cars. He got the car back the weekend before the Darlington race, so his team thrashed all week to prepare. They continued working through bugs once they got to the track.
“Yet again, without Buddy and his knowledge and mentorship, I wouldn’t be at this level,” Fowler said. “We’ve had Mark Micke [of M&M Transmission] down at the trailer numerous times. We were having some lockup issues. Mark graciously came down there – talk about customer support – and looked at a few things, told us what we needed to do. We made some adjustments and the car was on a rail. It repeated every pass 60-foots to the thousandths with the lockup.”
The moments after the win were overwhelmingly emotional for Fowler, who lives in Chester, South Carolina, just under two hours away from Darlington Dragway. As he pulled into the line for winner’s circle photos, a crowd of supporters surrounded his team to congratulate them.
“It was definitely a big deal, almost a Cinderella story, to be able to go into our home track and win with friends and family, and our hometown sponsor, Russell and Dee Dee Miller with Pee Dee Fleet,” Fowler said. “Gene Fulton was there. Several guys from the shop were there. My parents were there. A lot of friends and family. I’m very thankful and appreciative that we were able to pull off the win. It couldn’t have been written any better.”
Along with the Perkinsons and the Millers, Fowler thanked his family, crew member Bo Driskill, and his additional partners for their support.
“We have LAT Racing Oils that help us tremendously with great products, Gopher Utilities, and Advanced Prosthetics,” Fowler said. “We all know that it’s very expensive to run at this Elite level. I’ll be honest – I could never do it without these guys on my side. Without their support or the great products they provide us, we couldn’t do it. I greatly appreciate everyone’s help getting us here.”
With his win, Fowler moved into the top 10 in points with just two races left in the 2023 PDRA season. Fowler, now ninth, will try to go back-to-back when the PDRA returns to GALOT Motorsports Park for DragWars presented by ProFab on Oct. 5-7.