NASCAR is More Metal Than You Might Think
Alex Bowman, driver of Hendrick Motorsports’ 88 Chevrolet, won NASCAR’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway this past weekend. During his winner’s interview, he said he promised his friend “Aaron” that they’d get matching 88 tattoos if he won a race this year.
The friend he referred to is Aaron Gillespie, drummer for Underoath and vocalist for The Almost. The two don’t keep their love for each other’s worlds a secret. Gillespie (as well as the rest of The Almost) frequently wears vintage NASCAR shirts onstage and posts photos of his die-cast car collection on Instagram. Bowman is an active concert-goer, making it out to Gillespie’s shows whenever he can, and he’s a seasoned Underoath fan.
“I’ve become pretty close with a bunch of the guys in Underoath,” Bowman explains. “The Almost was actually the last show that I went to. They were in Greensborough, [North Carolina]; went and hung out with them and have just really enjoyed getting to know them. It’s funny because I wouldn’t have pictured a lot of them to be NASCAR fans, but they are and it’s pretty neat.”
When asked how he got into that world of music, he labels it as a “typical middle-school emo kid story,” naming The Used and My Chemical Romance as his gateway bands. “I really liked Blink-182, too, and just kinda bounced around all over the place. I still listen to all of that stuff today.”
But he didn’t stop during emo’s first wave, listing groups such as Pierce the Veil, Sleeping With Sirens and others as new-wave acts that he listens to. “I really like Dance Gavin Dance. Saw them live, they opened for Underoath. They were awesome to watch. That whole Warped Tour scene is really cool.”
Bowman replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the driver for the No. 88 car in 2018. Jr. is another driver who has shared his love of rock music — pop-punk specifically — naming acts The Wonder Years, Have Mercy and even going as far as to work with The Dangerous Summer on a music video.
So, it’s evident that drivers are into rock music, but the most notable metalhead in NASCAR today is Richard Petty Motorsports driver Bubba Wallace. The 26-year-old racer has used his social media presence time and time again to not only his love for heavy music, but his drumming talents as well.
“My dad got me a drumset for Christmas when I was 11. I never got lessons, so everything was self-taught, and I can’t read music,” Wallace recalls. “I’m like the Nick Cannon from Drumline. (Laughs.) So I’ve just always played along with the sound.”
His love of heavy music began when he saw Avenged Sevenfold’s “Unholy Confessions” video on MySpace. “I was like, ‘Man this is awesome. The drumming, the breakdowns. I could get into this music,’” he shares. “Then, like the related videos on YouTube, one led to another and I found Miss May I, August Burns Red and those kinds of bands. Then I thought it’d be cool to replicate those songs on my own kit at home. I’d just listen to a song and try to play it.
“I still can’t play the breakdown in “Unholy Confessions.” (Laughs.)
Wallace frequently posts videos of himself drumming along to songs on his social media. Over the last few years he has covered songs from acts such as Killswitch Engage, We Came as Romans, The Devil Wears Prada and others. He also helped metalcore band Fit For a King play the breakdown to their song “Backbreaker” during a live show in 2018.
Wallace is good friends with fellow NASCAR driver Ryan Blaney who also is a metalhead. He even helped Asking Alexandria announce their single “Into the Fire” by holding a sign with the song’s title and release date in front of his car during the race weekend at Darlington in 2017.
“They’ve been a good group of guys to get to know over the years,” Blaney says of Asking. “It’s been cool to see them come back the way they have. It was neat to be part of that. We try to see those guys whenever we can.”
Speaking on bands that he’s been listening to as of late, Blaney namedrops deathcore groups Thy Art is Murder and Chelsea Grin. “Oh my God they’re heavy, I love those guys. Chelsea Grin got that new vocalist [Tom Barber] last year and that guy is a beast.”
Although not largely publicized, the amount of musicians and bands who have sponsored cars in NASCAR races is numerous. For rock and metal specifically, Green Day, Three Doors Down, 311, Staind, Nickelback, Killswitch Engage, Megadeth, Dave Matthews Band, KISS and more have all placed their logos on cars that have run in NASCAR races. You can see photos of those paint schemes and their respective drivers below.
There are a lot of assumptions when it comes to the general perception of NASCAR from those who are not fans of the sport. It’s seen by many as an uncultured community that has no concept of the world around it. But anyone who peeks beneath the surface will see a diverse world of open-minded people who have a deep love for racing. They’ll also find a handful of metalhead drivers, along with some fans who happen to shred for a living.
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