Archive for Thursday, April 23, 2009

Austin driving toward success

Chase Austin throws out the first pitch at a Kansas City Royals game April 14. Eudora native Austin drives in the Camping World Truck Series and will compete Saturday in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway.

Chase Austin throws out the first pitch at a Kansas City Royals game April 14. Eudora native Austin drives in the Camping World Truck Series and will compete Saturday in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway.

April 23, 2009

As the sun begins to set on Kauffman Stadium, the Kansas City Royals public address announcer introduces Chase Austin, who will throw out the first pitch. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver and Eudora native makes his way to the mound while waving to the crowd. Then, he deftly delivers to the plate and the crowd cheered politely, never the wiser that he was worried about pitch location.

About three hours before throwing out the ceremonial pitch April 14, Austin was brimming with anxiety.

“I haven’t been this nervous in a while,” Austin said. “There’s been a couple of races where I’ve been more nervous than this, but I have a lot of friends who came out (to Kauffman) so I hope I just don’t zing it off into the stands.”

Austin, 19, signed with Trail Motorsport early this year and will race Saturday in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway.

However, his journey to NASCAR has been fraught with ups and downs.

He started racing go-karts when he was

8 years old and worked his way up through various racing formats. Though he said he “stunk” the first time he tried it, he didn’t give up.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been that bad at anything I first started in my life,” Austin said. “I kept with it and got better at it and it turned from a hobby to a career in a couple of years.”

When he was 14, he signed with Hendrick Motorsports and became the youngest driver ever to sign a NASCAR development contract. But after a team plane crash killed 10 members, the team did away with its development program.

Austin then signed in 2007 with the Rusty Wallace Racing developmental team. However, the relationship did not last long because the sponsorship for Austin fell through as a result of the national economic downturn.

“It has been a long, rough road,” Austin said. “Even though I’m only 19, it means a lot to come out and run at the Kansas Speedway. It’s not the exact circumstances that I’d like, but I get the chance to and that’s what really matters.”

Austin’s confidence was bolstered after he finished 13th in his first race this year. But troubles in the pit caused him to place 23rd in his next contest, which he said gave him more of a reality check as opposed to shaking his confidence.

Austin also is only one of two African Americans in NASCAR, a distinction to which he said won’t help him win so he doesn’t give it any celebratory credence.

In fact, he refuses to take part in Drive for Diversity, a developmental program for minority drivers and crew members in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series and Whelen All-American Series.

“It may mean a lot to other people, but I’ve never put much emphasis on it because it doesn’t help me at all,” Austin said. “It’s a performance-based sport, so I just want to do it the way everybody else does.”

Austin and his father, Stephen, currently live in North Carolina. Stephen travels with him so they are around each other a lot. And though Austin said there were times when that was frustrating for both of them, he valued the experience.

“I have a great relationship with my father,” Austin said. “I know not too many kids get to bond with their father like I do, and I appreciate that a lot.”

Austin also copped to being “a pretty big mama’s boy,” a sentiment with which his mother, Marianne, agreed.

She doesn’t get to see him often so the family is happy to have him home, even if for just a few days.

“It’s really great,” said Marriane Austin, as she looked out through the window of a plush suite at newly renovated Kauffman Stadium. “It’s nice to have him here and for him to have come this far.”

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