On Friday afternoons, the bell rings at Shepaug Valley High School in Washington, Connecticut to signal the end of the day for nearly 400 students. At that time, most students take the bus or drive their own vehicles home to begin their weekend. Sixteen-year-old Chase Dowling, a competitor at nearby Stafford Motor Speedway, begins his weekend a different way.
The Roxbury, Connecticut teen doesn’t yet have his license and doesn’t have plans to go home after the Friday school bell. Instead, he heads straight to either his mom's or his girlfriend's car to make the hour-long trip to Stafford.
This season, Dowling has made the move to the SK Modified division, which serves as the track's NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I class. In his first race in an SK Modified starting from the 26th position, Dowling charged to the front and captured a fourth place finish during the season-opening Spring Sizzler event held at the track.
A day after the race, Dowling received the news that third place finisher Rowan Pennink had been disqualified and that he had officially finished third in his first SK Modified feature.
“It was awesome,” Dowling said about his third place finish. “Words can’t really describe everything right now. I was sitting at the house and received the news about Rowan’s (Pennink) DQ. I’m just smiling from ear-to-ear right now.”
Dowling, who got his start in racing at the age of four, competing in go-karts at local dirt and asphalt tracks, won four WKA national championships between 2007 and 2009 before making the move into Legends cars. Wanting to go up against the best, Dowling would travel to North Carolina every weekend to compete with the best at Charlotte Motor Speedway and other tracks in the area.
In 2012, Dowling won the Summer Shootout at Charlotte racing for Tim Ladyga and Ladyga Motorsports, the same team that helped launch the Legends Car success for southern short track racing star Daniel Hemric.
“After we won a few national championships in the go-karts we figured we would move onto Legend Cars,” Dowling told Speed51.com presented by JEGS. “I ended up hooking up with Ladyga Motorsports and started racing down there. My rookie season I think I had like eight wins. My second season we won the Summer Shootout championship, which was awesome because you’re racing the best of the best and you have 32 cars to race against every week.”
After winning the 2012 Summer Shootout title and missing close to 35 days of school that season doing so, Dowling made the decision to race closer to home due to the financial costs associated with traveling to North Carolina nearly every weekend. At that time, Dowling and his family-owned team built an SK Light Modified to compete with at Stafford Motor Speedway during the 2013 season.
Over the course of the 2013 season, Dowling won seven features, captured Rookie of the Year honors, and finished second in the overall point standings. Even in his wildest dreams, the 16-year-old never imagined that he would end up having the success that he had last season.
“Over the winter we built the car and I said, ‘Man, it would be awesome to just get one win this year and run for Rookie of the Year,'" Dowling said. “We went out first race and got a win at the Spring Sizzler. I said, ‘Oh man, I don’t even think this is real right now.' Then all of a sudden we were like 'Let’s get three wins this year.' We ended up getting three, then five and then got all the way up to seven. It was just an awesome year.”
Following the completion of the 2013 racing season, Dowling wasn’t exactly sure of what his plans would be for 2014. That was until a number of supporters and sponsors came to him ready to help him get to the next level. That next level was competing in one of the most competitive stock car divisions in the entire United States, the SK Modifieds at Stafford.
“I’m a big believer in the saying, ‘If you want to be the best, you’ve got to race against the best.' I thought it was the right time to move up. I felt like we almost conquered the SK Lights. We had the backup from sponsorships that was helping me all the way.
“People were saying, ‘man, we’ve got to help this kid.' All of our sponsors came back on board this year and helped with the extra money for the motor, tires, and everything else. So we just said, let’s do it. We rebuilt the car over the offseason and got everything together to start off 2014 with a third place finish.”
Instead of purchasing a new car to compete in the SK Modified division, Dowling and his team made the necessary changes to his SK Light Modified, a car he was already comfortable in and knew he could win with, in order to bring the car up to specs to be competitive in the new division.
Now racing against some of the best in the Modified ranks such as Ryan Preece, Ted Christopher, Keith Rocco and Doug Coby, Dowling is amazed at how far he’s come in his racing career.
“It’s crazy,” Dowling said about how quickly he’s moved up to SK Modified ranks. “I have a picture I was looking back at when I was in my kids cart at Stafford Speedway getting autographs from SK Modified drivers. The years are going by so quick. It feels like I was just in a Legends car yesterday and now I’m already in an SK Modified.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really know too much about the SK Modifeds. Bob Potter was the local guy around me that I used to know and talk about. I’d hear Ted Christopher a lot and I always heard that name. I go out there two days ago and I was racing against the guy. It’s hard to even grasp that.”
Similar to his goals last season entering the SK Modified ranks, Dowling is once again hoping to capture Rookie of the Year honors and visit SK Modified victory lane for the first time in his career. After a solid finish to start the 2014 campaign, the Connecticut driver is confident that those goals are attainable.
“My expectations are high and my crew’s expectations are high,” said Dowling. “I really think we can get a win this season. I think it’s reasonable to get a win and compete for Rookie of the Year honors with our effort and everything we’re putting into this program.”
A win at any time during the 2014 season would put Dowling into the Stafford Motor Speedway record books as the youngest winner in SK Modified history. Zach Slyvester currently holds the record (18 years, 42 days) as the youngest SK Modified winner. Although he doesn’t arrive at the race track with the goal of breaking records, Dowling believes it would be awesome to break the record and is thankful to even have that chance.
“It would be awesome,” said Dowling. “To even have the chance and have the people supporting me to race SK Modifieds is unreal. Not every kid has the chance I do and I just have to be grateful.”