For the first time in 16 years, the Special Olympics World Games will take place on American soil as thousands of athletes, coaches, fans, and volunteers descend upon host city Los Angeles July 25-August 2, 2015 to compete for hardware and take in the inspirational action. With the opening day celebration drawing nearer by the hour, Examiner spoke exclusively with U.S. Navy veteran and Special Olympic athlete Kristine Hughes and NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer on April 20 to get the skinny on how fans can get involved with the 25-sport extravaganza. Bowyer also chatted on a few racing-related topics, including his picks for the brightest rising NASCAR stars and his one pre-race must-do activity.
Clint, how did you get involved with the Special Olympics?
Bowyer: Well, Toyota is how we’re all involved. They’ve been a part of the Special Olympics for 30 years. But now, because… of being not just a racer but a Toyota dealer in my hometown of Emporia, Kansas, all the dealer networks are getting together and raising funds for all the athletes, the coaches, the staff, all of ’em to go do battle for all of us right here in America. So I’m looking forward to it. It’s a really big thing for everybody. It hasn’t been to America for 16 years. There’s 500,000 people that are going to be at it. It’s a major thing for all of us.
What are some of the details about the upcoming games?
Bowyer: You’re talking 7,000 athletes. You’re talking 177 countries represented and half a million people coming to this. This is the single-most largest sporting event in the world in 2015. That’s just a little bit of a snapshot of how big this really is.
Kristine, I understand you have kind of a cool job coming up at the games: you’re going to be a volleyball official. Can you tell me about that, and what you think you’ll like the best about it?
Hughes: I am really honored to get to go to the World Games. What I like the best about it is they allow athletes to become leaders, so when we have to be done playing sports, we can still have more opportunities to take part in the program.
Awesome! Okay, Clint, I have to come back and ask a few NASCAR questions of course. Where are you right now; let me see, you’re about 18th in point standings?
Bowyer: That’s how far back we are: you had to say ‘let me see, where are you…’ Yes. It’s not very good right now. But the good news is it’s very early in the season…. There’s no question. Got a lot of work to do. The guys… are diggin’ hard to get this thing figured out on these bigger mile and a half racetracks [like Texas Motor Speedway].
What does your pre-race routine look like?
Bowyer: [laughs] Everybody asks this! Pre-race routine. There’s only one real thing that you gotta make sure you take care of and that’s just taking care of business. You’re in that car for four hours, sometimes more, you don’t need to be going to the bathroom. It’s a bad deal. So make sure you go to the bathroom! But aside from that, you know, a lot of meets and greets, a lot of sponsor obligations and things like that. You’re really busy right up until you get in the racecar. The first time you sit in the seat is kind of the first time you take a breath… gain your focus, and get out there.
So, Michael Waltrip Racing. Michael Waltrip did “Dancing with the Stars.” Are we going to see Clint Bowyer “Dancing with the Stars”?
Bowyer: You’re not going to see me dancing with any stars or to the stars or anything else. If I’m ever dancing, it’s because I’ve won a race, and I’m gonna dance my butt to victory lane.
[Laughs] Okay, that makes sense. But on a more serious note, who do you have pegged as NASCAR’s biggest new rising star?
Bowyer: Man, there’s a lot of them. That’s a great question. There are so many young drivers coming up…. That talent pool is amazing, and it doesn’t just end there. I think this is the start of many young drivers to come. Chase Elliott and the job he’s done. My teammate, this Brett Moffitt kid, he’s a Midwestern boy so I’m kinda partial to him, but he stepped into a pretty unique situation, a tough situation for any driver to step into, and he’s done a great job. [Note: Moffitt is racing in place of Brian Vickers, who is off-track while taking blood thinners.] The talent level that they have is tremendous and it should be. They’ve been racing since they were old enough to walk, you know. So it’s amazing the job that they do and the experience that they have.
Awesome. So, to close things out, how can we get involved with the Special Olympics?
Bowyer: It’s real easy. Just go to Toyota.com. All the information on the Special Olympics and how you can be involved, how you can donate your time [is there]. More importantly, go out to L.A. and take this all in! This is a big event, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun.