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Head for the hills: When racing ends, avid hunter Bowyer makes beeline for the mountains

March 14th, 2014 8:55 pm by George Thwaites

Head for the hills: When racing  ends, avid hunter Bowyer makes beeline for the mountains

Clint Bowyer climbs into his Sprint Cup car Friday before practice at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. (Jonathan McCoy photo)

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — When the 2013 NASCAR season finally drew to a close for Clint Bowyer, the No. 15 Toyota driver knew exactly how to put his racing-related headaches in the rearview mirror.

He just needed to spend lots of quality time freezing his butt off in a tree.

"I did the first thing everybody should do. It was hunting season," said Bowyer, an avid hunter who has a popular side gig as an outdoor celebrity thanks to his association with "Realtree's NASCAR Outdoors" on ESPN and a gone-viral guest appearance on A&E's "Duck Dynasty."

"The cool thing about being tired and being over the (race) season is that it happens right in the middle of whitetail season back home in Kansas. That's the first thing I do. I head back there and get prepared to hunt the beast."

Bowyer not only counts Realtree and Georgia Boots among his sponsors, he also wears their products on his back and on his feet — and he isn't afraid to get them muddy. And yes, 5-Hour Energy is in his hunting pack.

He likes it all: archery, black powder and rifle. He's adept and flexible enough to make use of whatever comes up. The television work doesn't necessarily simplify things. It takes quite a bit of wrangling to swap the smells of petroleum and rubber for a whiff of pine cones and bottled ungulate urine.

But his sports celebrity status does afford welcome — albeit brief — windows of hunting opportunity. Even during NASCAR crunch time.

"It's hard for me because the most important time of our season is my play time. I love to go hunting in the fall. Unfortunately it's right in the middle of the Chase," Bowyer said. "It depends on the hunt. The first couple of years on that (Realtree NASCAR) elk hunt, it was a rifle hunt. Last year was my first bow hunt with an elk. They're all unique.

"For us, when we do those hunts, obviously we only have two or three days. So it's a full-court press from the day you get there to the day you leave. You don't have much time and those animals are extremely hard to hunt. They're up in the mountains. You've got to get after it. You've got to find that big daddy," he said.

"The one thing about those shows that I've kind of demanded. I know we're here for TV. But I'm here to get that trophy of a lifetime. I don't take that lightly. I don't go after second best. Not on the racetrack or in the field. If there's an old mature elk that needs harvested, that's the one I'm after."

Not that the bull of the woods is always in agreement with Bowyer's itinerary. Last fall he slipped off to Alberta for a three-day moose hunt with Bryan Emrich of PEAK Automotive. You think coyotes can run off game?

"We had some wolves on us. That was about the only animal I saw in Canada that particular hunt. Hey, it's called hunting, man," Bowyer said. "The only moose I saw was on the Moose Crossing sign on the highway on our way there. But we had a blast. Hunting is not just about killing that animal. Sometimes that's the smallest part of it. It was a relationship-builder for me and time well spent with my sponsor."

There are some forms of North American hunting that are simply incompatible with Bowyer's racing career. Steep country hunting for sheep and goats appeals to him, but those hunts require a minimum of seven days, to say nothing of the pre-hunt physical training. Unlike whitetail hunting, that's not something he can pursue when NASCAR's season ends.

Bowyer's famous friendship with the Robertson clan of "Duck Dynasty" has been artistically commemorated on his racing headgear and on the hood of his ride. It was the paint job on Bowyer's "camo limo" that helped propel their mutual association into the popular consciousness.

"Willie (Robertson) called me and said, 'Is that really your limousine?' And I was like, 'Yeah.' So he said, 'That's awesome! We've got to do something! You've got to bring it down here!'" Bowyer said.

"I said, 'Willie, this is a 1989 Cadillac. We built it for fun. How in the hell do you think we're going to get it to Monroe, Louisiana?'"

The answer: At Robertson's urging, Bowyer took the Caddy to the shop and shelled out $1,200 to get it roadworthy. The rest is basic cable history.

"Our fan base is just parallel with one another. Our audiences are pretty much the same — blue-collar American. Our fans relate to that. The NASCAR tie-in for them is perfect. They've been to a lot of races. They're sponsoring a race in Texas now and it's just cool to know them," Bowyer said.

It's been very cool that Bowyer's native interests and inclinations dovetail so perfectly with timely opportunities to develop parallel fan bases.

The Kansan is an avid fan of country and western music. One of Bowyer's helmets features Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson of The Highwaymen. One of his best buds is Blake Shelton of NBC's "The Voice." So basically, America's best-known country troubadour is one of Bowyer's biggest fans. Shelton, meanwhile, has joined Merle Haggard, Nelson and Kristofferson in a resurrected version of the legendary country music quartet.

None of this has anything to do with racing. But it is all very, very good for Bowyer's racing career.

What media shrewdness Bowyer possesses blends seamlessly with an image that is more unvarnished personality than polished persona. You can't be in his business without having a little bit of a filter. But fans who follow his Twitter feed are endlessly entertained by Clint Bowyer simply being himself. So far, it seems to be working out.

"Twitter is pretty much the way I am: a smart*** who doesn't take things too seriously and has fun with life," Bowyer said. "I don't ever want to use (Twitter) for anything other than what I use it for. To have fun with fans and be a goofball. I don't want it to get serious to where you're giving updates on exactly where you're going and what you're thinking and doing. Where the next step is. I don't care about that." 

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