Darlington Raceway is a rare gem in today’s NASCAR because it is unlike any other track on the circuit. It was built on land that once grew cotton and peanuts and shaped around a minnow pond, giving it a unique design and producing NASCAR’s first paved superspeedway.
The “Track Too Tough to Tame” was the site for an open NASCAR test session Wednesday. Aric Almirola and his crew chief Trent Owens were one of 12 Sprint Cup teams that participated.
Owens, who hails from Darlington, has racing in his DNA. His father, Randy Owens (Richard Petty’s brother-in-law), was only 20-years-old when he lost his life in a bizarre pit accident at Talladega while attempting to extinguish a fire on Richard Petty’s No. 43. A pressurized water tank exploded, killing him instantly. Trent was only four months old.
He followed in his father’s footsteps, working at Petty Enterprises as a teenager and eventually making his debut as a driver in NASCAR’s truck series in 2001. The following year he made six truck starts for Billy Ballew Motorsports, but the team lost its funding and Owen’s career took him on a different path.
From 2006-2013, Owens began working as a crew chief in the Busch/Nationwide Series (now XFINITY) with various teams including Braun Racing and Turner Scott Motorsports. He won with five different drivers in the series and served as crew chief for the 2013 Rookie of the Year, Kyle Larson. Owens also captured one win with Larson in the Camping World Truck Series along with a victory in the ARCA Series.
In 2014, when Owens got the call to move up to the Sprint Cup Series as crew chief for the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 car with driver, Aric Almirola, it was as if his life had come full circle.
“In a lot of ways,” Owens said, “I know he would be extremely proud and in a lot of ways I feel like I’m continuing what he was trying to do. Not knowing him, it is special that I’m working on the same car that he was working on.”
During a break from testing, Owens spoke about the special connection he has with Darlington.
When asked about his first memory of the track, he said, “It’s hard to remember exactly. I think the best thing for me was getting out of school early to come for qualifying on Thursdays. I always enjoyed that. I don’t think I’ve missed a race here and it’s hard to remember what year that may have been.
“It was cool that I lived in a town that, you know this racing deal, when you talk about family, we travel a lot, we don’t get to see our families so it was nice that I got to live in a town that my family got to actually come to a town I lived in and I got to visit them there. So I think that was one of the coolest things.”
As the team heads to Michigan this weekend, their focus is on improving from a 15th place car to a top-10 or top-five car. But in three months, when the team travels back to Darlington for the Southern 500, the emphasis will certainly be on winning. For this Darlington son, a victory with the No. 43 would be nothing short of a dream come true.