USAR: Lakeland: Chase Austin race report

Austin Impressive In USAR Pro Cup Debut Lakeland, FL - An afternoon practice crash resulted in a single qualifying lap and a 32nd-place starting position for 16-year-old rookie Chase Austin. But the young Kansan soldiered veteran-like to a ...

Austin Impressive In USAR Pro Cup Debut

Lakeland, FL - An afternoon practice crash resulted in a single qualifying lap and a 32nd-place starting position for 16-year-old rookie Chase Austin. But the young Kansan soldiered veteran-like to a surprising 13th-place finish in his USAR Hooters Pro Cup debut in Saturday night's Naturally Fresh 250. Equally impressive is that the result came on a track significantly larger and faster than any on which Austin had previously competed, and in a 250-lap grind that was more than twice as long as any prior event in which he had raced.

On the Tuesday before, however, the unsponsored Austin Racing Ford had looked like a likely "no-show" for the season-opener at Lakeland's three-quarter mile USA International speed plant. The bright red Taurus sat on jackstands, sans decals, engine, brakes and other assorted parts and pieces.

"This whole family-owned deal came together so late, it just didn't look good for making it to Florida," said Austin. "But things miraculously came together on Wednesday, and we were able to get to Lakeland late Thursday night."

Chase credits the team's employees, just three strong, and led by dad Steve Austin and veteran NASCAR Busch Series crew chief Tim Shutt.

A lengthy Friday tech inspection followed by a two-hour practice session under the lights created as many questions as it answered. "We weren't bad," said Austin, "but this heavy car is totally new to me, and I was trying to drive it like I did the much lighter late model I ran last year. It didn't work very well." The team ended up 24th on the practice sheet of the 41 machines entered.

Things didn't get much better in Saturday's practice. Feeling that it was his inexperience more than the car, Chase got a tad too aggressive trying to find more speed, and with only 20 minutes of practice time remaining, backed the No. 50 machine into the turn four concrete. Shutt and company beat and banged on the sheet metal, prodding the rear quarter and TV panels back into as good a shape as possible for a bonsai qualifying run. The crash resulted in tardiness to the qualifying line and just one lap to get in the show, with the accompanying pressure on the youngster to hustle the car into the field, praying that the hasty repairs had been sufficient to get the job done. And get it done he did, albeit barely earning the final starting spot on qualifying time.

At Shutt's suggestion, Chase's goal for the Naturally Fresh 250 was simple - survive the prescribed distance. He cautiously picked his way through numerous crashes, did his most aggressive racing in the event's final 50 laps, and was rewarded with a respectable 13th in the final race rundown.

"We'll take that," said a surprisingly fresh Austin after the race. "When we got back we found out that the rear clip was bent, and it won't be fixed in time for the next race in two weeks at Montgomery (AL). But we'll be there with our back-up car. We just hope that we have another good run, and can lock up a pretty big sponsorship deal we've been working on. We sure need it, and I know we can give them more than their money's worth."

-ar-

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Series Stock car
Drivers Chase Austin