Alex Bowman doesn’t claim to be the most creative person, and for this year’s edition of throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway, he admits there wasn’t a long list of ideas for his No. 48 Chevrolet.
Over the years, Bowman has been on both sides of the paint scheme spectrum. He’s been one of the few drivers without a unique design because a partner didn’t participate, and he’s also driven some memorable and recognizable cars. Imitating Tim Richmond in 2019, for instance, was a big hit.
Next month, the car that rolls off the hauler for Bowman will have a special connection. NASCAR and Darlington did not designate a specific decade for throwback weekend, so Bowman suggested they honor crew chief Greg Ives. Ives is a former late model driver who loves all forms of racing, including now with his son Parker (6) and daughter Taylor (8), who both race at Millbridge Speedway in North Carolina.
The Ally Chevrolet will carry the seafoam and grapefruit colors like those on a late model Ives drove in 1998 when competing in his native Michigan. Amazingly, when Bowman picked the design, he didn’t know the extensive history behind it and how meaningful it is to Ives.
“The goal was to make him cry, which he did,” Bowman told RACER. “So that was really cool.”
Ives didn’t know what the team had planned until they recently unveiled the car for him at the Hendrick Motorsports shop. Upon seeing it, Ives started reflecting and telling stories.
When Ives ran the car, he never imagined having a career in the NASCAR Cup Series. But it feels like a full-circle moment for it to run a Cup Series race on May 9.
Ives purchased the car early in his racing career, 1997, from Dicki Coleman. It was a well-put-together and clean car, and Coleman had always been different with his color schemes. While Coleman didn’t pressure Ives to keep the colors, Ives was asked to consider it, and they did grow on him.
“Basically a week or so after I got the car, I went down to Wisconsin International Raceway, and when I unloaded the car, I got a lot of feedback on it, and I didn’t necessarily understand why,” Ives explained to RACER. “There were different crew members and officials who made comments about Jim Pagel and the paint scheme he used to run back in 1993, and I didn’t realize the significance of it being a 17, 18-year-old kid.
“As I continued to talk to some of the guys, it was revealed to me that the previous year at the season opener, Jim passed away in a qualifying accident. So, as I’m getting more and more history and have more and more people talking to me, it’s all coming together as something (to where) the paint scheme chose me. Here I was a younger guy coming into the sport, Jim Pagel passed away tragically doing something he loved to do, and I felt like it was a great way to pay honor to a fallen racer who gave everything he had to the sport, helped build the sport … and allowed me to have a dream to get where I am today.”
Ives thinks he’d be described as a smooth driver and calm in the car, but admits he wasn’t the best driver. Although Ives qualified well and had a lot of speed, he was not as aggressive as, say, his older brother Steve. Instead, his focus was on making his car better each lap and each week, and in the process, Ives was also learning tricks of the trade that eventually led him to become a NASCAR championship-winning crew chief.
“This car, in particular, I learned a lot from,” said Ives. “The Coleman chassis had a lot of adjustability to it, and I learned a lot about roll centers and changing those and how they reacted on the car, different geometry setups, springs, shocks, all that type of stuff I learned quite a bit from the car and that is what really intrigued me. That I could move the track bar on the left side and go out there and I could actually drive the car and feel it.
“So, that’s where my main interest was. I still loved driving; like I said, I wasn’t a great driver, and I feel like talent and money cost me my driving career. To me, I was a realist. I knew that working on the car and learning that way and contributing to the sport was that way was my path.”
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) April 20, 2021
Hendrick Motorsports hired Ives in 2004 as a shop mechanic on Jeff Gordon’s team. He later became the race engineer for Chad Knaus on Jimmie Johnson’s team, winning five consecutive championships and 42 races from 2006-12. In November of ’12, Ives went to work for JR Motorsports, where he’d spend a few years winning races with Regan Smith and Chase Elliott, as well as the 2014 title with Elliott.
In 2015, Ives returned to the Cup Series as the crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and now Alex Bowman, who took over for Earnhardt upon his retirement. Ives and Bowman have three wins together.
“We’ve always gotten along really well,” said Bowman. “We’re both a little socially awkward and kind of different sometimes, and I think that allows us to understand each other a little better, probably. We’ve had a really solid five years now. It’s been a lot of fun working with Greg, and we really haven’t had any big fights or arguments. We got into it a little bit for a couple of weeks a couple of years ago and squashed that really quick, and everything’s been good since.
“I really enjoy working with him – he’s super dedicated and passionate about what he does, and he tries to get it all all the time, which I really appreciate. I have fun driving his race cars.”
Having Bowman want to honor him with a paint scheme is “pretty special.” Ives said it means a lot for their relationship to be on the same page in doing things for each other.
“He saw this as an opportunity to honor my career as a driver, and he knows my passion for racing,” Ives said. “He sees what I do not only for him but for my son and other people, and on my weekend off, I’m at the racetrack and all that. Sometimes the guys in the corner doing all work, not in the limelight, don’t always get recognized, and it was pretty cool for him to say, yeah, I have a lot of paint schemes, but.
“I know he’s big on cars and how his paint schemes look, and ultimately, he chose something that meant a lot to me and in a little bit of a naïve way. He didn’t even know the history behind this paint scheme, let alone the other ones I had.”
With the scheme comes even more incentive to run well, and no matter how special it is, Ives knows performance is all that matters. Bowman acknowledged it had been a rough start to the season, which finally found a bright spot when they snuck up and grabbed the win at Richmond Raceway over the weekend. Darlington is another venue where Bowman thinks good things can happen.
“It’d (a win) be really special for Greg,” he said. “He’s been through a lot; our team’s been through a lot, so to win with a special paint scheme like that would be super meaningful. It’s been a rough start to the year for us for sure, so it’d be really awesome. I think we’re fully capable of getting it done there.
“We ran really well there last year; it’s one of my favorite tracks. The rules package has kind of changed up a little bit, but I know we can be really strong, so going to do my best to get it done for him. I know he’s going to do everything he can with the car, and I’ll just try to do my best at holding the steering wheel.”