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Original WSOPM Champion Mike Bowman Looking to Make History Again

At the beginning of this year, Mike Bowman wasn’t sure he’d even be at the Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod (WSOPM) presented by Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage and J&A Service, taking place March 1-3 at Bradenton Motorsports Park.

The 2017 WSOPM champion was still unwinding from a grueling 2023 season on Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings, and considered spending 2024 simply racing Jr. Dragsters with his daughters. But one of his television co-stars quickly – albeit unknowingly – changed his plans. 

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“To be honest, I was pretty burned out on NPK,” said Bowman. “My wife Kristy and I were sitting there having a drink, and I saw [Justin] Swanstrom was going to be at WSOPM. It kept popping up on my phone, and I’m like, ‘Hell no. He’s going and I’m not going? Are you kidding me right now? You know what, I think I want to go.’ Once I decided I was going to go, I got really excited and the next morning I was working on the car.”

That last-minute decision is a perk of being a former event winner – Bowman didn’t have to wait for an invitation like everyone else, because he has a champion’s exemption that allows him to compete for as long as wants. 

In a span of just over two weeks, Bowman put in his brand-new, rebuilt spare Pro Line motor, “stole” the new shocks and struts off his NPK car, switched to larger 18-inch wheels, and even managed to get the car a little lighter. He also brought renowned tuner Steve Petty on board to help make his ’69 Chevelle more competitive.

“I feel like this year I have a better shot than I did last year,” Bowman said. “I’m hoping to be at the top. He (Petty) thinks it’s going to run a .62 to .64. He’s usually not wrong about what he tells you something’s going to run.”

Last year certainly didn’t go the way Bowman had hoped. The entire event had undergone massive changes since he won in 2017. Gone were the mountain views and high altitude of Bandimere Speedway, replaced with the nearly sea-level air in Bradenton. The format switched from quarter mile to the outlaw eighth mile. And the field of cars had doubled in size since that very first race. With such strong performances from a multitude of other teams, Bowman fell just short of making the show.     

“Last year was disappointing,” Bowman admitted. “It was such a tight field. I went 3.70 with a two and the bump was a .68 with a two, yet there were 12 spots between me and that. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the field is even tighter this year. In fact, I’d bet on it. You’d better be performing well or you don’t deserve to be there when it comes time to race on Sunday. Last year, we didn’t deserve to be there.”

Luke Nieuwhof photo

Yet despite the disappointing result, Bowman still cherishes that time in Bradenton, and is excited to return. Though he loves NPK, he admits the strain both financially and on his family has taken its toll. And while the competition at the WSOPM is fiercer than it’s ever been, Bowman says he’s actually able to soak it all in and enjoy the atmosphere.

“I’ve told people that the best race, the most fun I had last year was at the World Series of Pro Mod,” said Bowman. “And they’re like, ‘Really? Out of all the races and all the places you went?’ And I say, ‘World Series.’ Maybe my heart’s just with the Pro Mod. I’m so excited to get back to the Pro Mod stuff. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the biggest race I ever won was WSOPM.”

So while other drivers may feel the pressure of racing for the $100,000 winner-take-all prize money, Bowman isn’t shaken by it. He’s been there and done that. What he’s focused on is making history by becoming the first driver to win a second WSOPM title, an accomplishment he says would mean even more than the first one.

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“I’m not coming because I want to be second,” Bowman said. “Nobody can ever take away that first race for me, but I want to win again. I want to put an exclamation point on all the years I’ve been racing. If you win this race, you’re a certified badass forever. I know what it feels like to win a hundred grand and to win the most badass race there is. And if I could win it again, that’d be off the charts insane. It would mean everything.”

Tickets for the Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod presented by JHG and J&A Service are on sale now and can be purchased at https://bit.ly/wsopm2024. Fans watching from home can tune in to the official event livestream on FloRacing at https://flosports.link/3uYLot3

This story was originally published on February 28, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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