Archive for Thursday, May 17, 2007

Opportunity knocks for Austin

May 17, 2007

After years of waiting, Eudora student Chase Austin has signed a contract with big-name NASCAR racer Rusty Wallace.

It couldn't have come at a better time, Austin said.

Austin and his dad moved to Charlotte, N.C., last year to start Austin's career. They invested in a car and a garage, and combined with the day-to-day expense of moving halfway across the country, Austin said the costs were starting to mount.

"It's just been a great deal and a great blessing, because we were running out of money, and we were living in North Carolina," Austin said. "We almost had to come back to Kansas a couple of times."

Now working with Wallace will help ensure the Eudora 17-year old will be able to continue to live his dream in the heart of stock car racing country.

Wallace is a former champion from NASCAR's top level who recently took to the broadcast booth, helping call races for ABC and ESPN.

Austin will tackle several roles in his new position. Primarily he will race in the Busch East Series for its 14-race season. The Busch East series began with races in the northeastern United States, but in recent years has expanded further south along the East Coast, then east into the Midwest.

Austin said he received the call roughly three months ago from Wallace.

"He called NASCAR and he asked about one of the best teenagers they knew to sign because he was looking for somebody younger," Austin said. "NASCAR told him to call me. That's how he got the idea to call me out of the blue."

Austin said the potential exposure he can get from being tied to one of the sport's biggest names is incredible, but he's learned not to take situations for granted.

He signed with Hendrick Motorsports in 2004, but that deal unraveled after a plane crash killed 10 of the team's top members, including the executives who oversaw Austin's driver development program.

"Right now it's just a year contract, and we're not sure where we're going to go after that," Austin said of his deal with Wallace. "At the end of the year we can renegotiate with him and I can work with him for several more years, but we're not really sure. I'm just going to focus on this year."

But that might not be such a bad thing, considering Austin will actually race several nationally televised Busch races at the end of the year.

Between now and then, Austin has a lot to look forward to.

Off the track, he plans on graduating high school via the Eudora Community Learning Center in step with the rest of his Eudora class in May 2008.

On the track, Austin said Wallace was a great educator and fun person to be around. He said although their time together was limited due to Wallace's television commitments, Austin said he had learned a lot from Wallace and his team.

In all, Austin said this was the deal of his lifetime and was something he had been waiting for.

"I've just been looking forward to this for a long time," Austin said. "After we broke off from Hendrick Motorsports, it was hard financially and getting stuff ready to go every weekend."

This season it has been so far, so good. Austin had his first Busch East race Friday at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina, and he both qualified and finished 19th in the 38-driver field.

He'll race twice this weekend, first Friday in Elko, Minnesota at the Minnesota 150, then again Sunday at the Featherlite Coaches 200 in Newton, Iowa.

The race in Iowa will be on the eight-month old Iowa Speedway and will combine drivers from the Busch East series with those from the West series.

The races will both be televised, Friday's live at 9 p.m. in high definition on HDNet, then again tape delayed on SPEED channel Wednesday at 1 p.m.

Sunday's will also be on HDNet, starting at 4 p.m., and will be tape delayed on SPEED Wednesday, June 6.

"We've just been waiting for a deal like this -- it's been a huge weight lifted off our shoulders," Austin said.

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