Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by the Fastest Street Car staff
As the grandson of Don Bowles and the son of Donnie Bowles, who are as admired as they are accomplished in the world of motorsports, Cameron Bowles was poised to be as prominent.
He was just waist-high when he would happily holler “Faster, faster” while sitting in the driver’s seat of one of his grandfather’s cars — or Grandy, as he calls him — and that’s when he began to experience everything from adrenaline to an appreciation for racing.
Cameron went on to watch his grandfather and father wheel to wins in the NMCA, NMRA and other series, and as soon as he was able, he started racing his daily-driven truck and his grandfather’s daily-driven trucks in NMCA MagnaFuel Open Comp, NMCA TorqStorm Superchargers True Street, NMRA ARP Open Comp, NMRA QA1 True Street, NMRA Detroit Locker Truck and Lightning and Brackets.
When he was ready to ratchet up, he was given the go-ahead to prepare his grandfather’s famous Maverick, Little Coal Digger VII, for NMCA MagnaFuel Open Comp and NMRA ARP Open Comp in 2016, and just as his grandfather and father did when they first started going fast, he proved that he was quite capable in the cockpit.
With a small-block Ford built by Roush and freshened by Phillip Oakley under the hood of the crowd-pleasing car, he nailed 9-second passes on his way to the NMCA MagnaFuel Open Comp championship in 2019, and now, the Kentucky-based driver is preparing to take on even more by driving his grandfather’s notchback Mustang nicknamed Unfinished Business in NMCA Dart NA 10.5 presented by Diamond Pistons.
Read on for more about Cameron, who recently celebrated his twenty-second birthday and wants to accomplish even more than he already has.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WATCH YOUR GRANDFATHER AND FATHER RACE WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
It was pretty special, and I think it had a lot to do with my need for speed. My Grandy would put me in his SN95 Cobra R and do burnouts and doughnuts, and say ‘Don’t tell your mama.’ I always liked how it felt when Grandy would take off fast and I would be pushed back in my seat. I guess it’s in my blood.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?
My Grandy has a 1979 Mustang Pace Car that my dad had driven some when he was in high school, and I would drive it to school on my first day of school, but it wasn’t my daily driver. My first car was a 2010 Raptor that my Grandy gave me when I was 16. I loved it, but was involved in a wreck in it. I was very upset that the truck was messed up because I wanted to keep it because my Grandy helped develop the 6.2L in those. I used the money from the insurance to buy a Super Duty.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST EXPOSURE TO RACING A CAR YOURSELF?
I had always told my Grandy and dad that I wanted a junior dragster, and Grandy always told me ‘We have enough cars. You can wait,’ so I waited, and then I raced the Raptor, and then I raced my Grandy’s F150s, a couple of them, in NMCA/NMRA Open Comp, True Street, Truck and Lightning and Brackets. Then I started putting my Grandy’s Maverick together to race.
HOW DID IT COME TO BE THAT YOU WOULD PREPARE AND THEN RACE THE FAMOUS MAVERICK KNOWN AS LITTLE COAL DIGGER VII THAT YOUR GRANDFATHER RACED?
When we returned from PRI back in 2015, I told my cousin that I wanted to get the Maverick out, find everything that had been taken out of it, including the engine and transmission, and put it back together, so I got the go-ahead, and did a little at a time.
WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN MAKING THE CAR RACE-READY AGAIN?
In addition to getting the engine and transmission back in the car, I made it so it wouldn’t wheelie and hurt the bumper like it did when Grandy drove it. I relocated the fuel cell from the back of the car to the front of the car, and moved the battery. I got the Maverick done in time to go to a test session, get some seat time and to make passes for my NHRA license at Atlanta Dragway, the week before the NMCA/NMRA event there in 2016. Kurt Neighbor helped me and signed off on my NHRA license, and my parents were there. They weren’t going to miss it. Unfortunately, my Grandy wasn’t able to make it, but he had gotten it tuned up for me. My parents were hoping the car would run 11.50s, but it ran 9.90s, and I entered Brackets that weekend. I had driven the car around the shop before, but that was the first time I had tested and raced in it.
WAS THE EXPERIENCE WHAT YOU EXPECTED IT TO BE?
Yes, I thought it would be amazing, and it was definitely amazing. It felt like it was just destined to happen. It has always been my dream to follow in my Grandy’s footsteps and my dad’s footsteps, and to keep their legacy going.
YOU’RE DEFINITELY ON THE RIGHT PATH, AS AFTER JUST A FEW YEARS OF RACING IN THE CAR, YOU EARNED THE NMCA MAGNAFUEL OPEN COMP CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2019.
As soon as I started racing, I knew I was going to want to race as much as I could. So, I ran both NMCA MagnaFuel Open Comp and NMRA ARP Open Comp, and before long, I knew I wanted to try hard to earn a championship, even though it’s a very difficult class. Early on, it was challenging to stay out of my own head and not overthink things when I was racing, so I focused on not doing that, and it has helped. There are a lot of mental aspects to racing, that’s for sure. You just have to overcome them so they don’t become an obstacle. I say a prayer, take a deep breath and try to hit the tree and run my number.
YOU MENTIONED EARLIER THAT YOU AND YOUR FATHER ARE SUPERSTITIOUS. WILL YOU SHARE A COUPLE EXAMPLES?
Sure. A good example is if someone puts us in the waterbox or helps us buckle in for the first round of eliminations and we make it past first round, we have to have that same person put us in the waterbox or help us buckle in for the next round. Some people believe in it and some people don’t, but we definitely do.
YOU RECENTLY MADE A FEW TEST PASSES IN YOUR GRANDFATHER’S MUSTANG NICKNAMED UNFINISHED BUSINESS, AND ANNOUNCED THAT YOU PLAN TO CAMPAIGN IT IN NMCA DART NA 10.5 PRESENTED BY DIAMOND PISTONS. WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO READY THE CAR, AND YOURSELF, FOR THAT CATEGORY?
The car is at Steve Matukas’ chassis shop, where he’s cleaning some things up, moving some things around, upgrading a few things and putting a new seat in it. The car had an old NASCAR engine, a Ford FR9, when my Grandy raced it, and we will leave that as-is while I get some good seat time in the car. We’re just going to take it easy and make sure everything will be alright. After a while, we’ll turn it up a notch, and decide which engine would be best for me to run in the category.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU ON A PERSONAL LEVEL TO BE GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO DRIVE THAT CAR?
It’s a huge honor, and I just hope I can do well in it for myself and especially for my Grandy, who has slowed down some on his racing. I like to say that I hope I can finish some business in my Grandy’s Unfinished Business car. I hope to have the car at the track soon.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF LEAVING NMCA MAGNAFUEL OPEN COMP OR NMRA ARP OPEN COMP TO FOCUS SOLELY ON NMCA DART NA 10.5 PRESENTED BY DIAMOND PISTONS?
I have thought about it, and while I would like to be able to handle driving two different cars in two different categories, I might have to just run NA 10.5 at the NMCA races, but I would still run Open Comp at the NMRA races.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOUR GRANDFATHER AND FATHER HAVE TAUGHT YOU?
They have taught me so much. They have taught me to keep my head in the game and to be prepared for whatever to happen, and to not get in my own head and to do my own thing. They have told me that I have to learn from my mistakes, and that there will be mistakes. And, they always tell me to have fun.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT RACING?
I like to work on the cars, and run some of the big equipment that Grandy used to have on his coal mine and that I grew up around. I also like to ride Razor ATVs with my buddy, and I farm a bit.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THIS YEAR’S RACING SEASON?
I hope to make all of the races, and to run NA 10.5 and Open Comp. I would love to be able to back up my Open Comp championship, but I also want to focus on NA 10.5 this season so that I can go into next season full-blast.
(Interview from the September 2020 issue of Fastest Street Car)