Archive for Thursday, August 10, 2006

Chasing the dream

Area teen hopes to drive with NASCAR

August 10, 2006

Eudora resident Chase Austin, 16, is a normal kid. He studies in the Eudora school system and likes to hang out with his friends. And like many teenage boys, he likes car races, especially NASCAR. But his love for races does not stop at just admiration; Chase races stock cars, and has since he was 12.

"I got interested when I was 5 or 6," Chase said. "My dad started racing at local races. My parents asked if I wanted to start racing, I said I did, and started racing more and more. First it became a hobby, then it became a career."

Chase said he officially made his leap into racing in 2001 when he enrolled in the Micro Sprint driving school. By 2002, he recorded 16 victories in the Micro Sprint league, which resulted in him being named 2002 rookie of the year.

In 2003, Chase experienced what he said was his proudest racing moment in his life to date when he was racing dirt late model cars.

"When I was 13, I won my biggest race -- the Future Dirt Track World Championship," Chase said. "It was by invitation only and included people ages 12 to 19."

By 2004, Chase had moved onto full-sized vehicles and signed with the Hendrick Motor Sports -- of which Jeff Gordon is affiliated with -- Driver Development Program.

However, by early 2006, the development program was cancelled, forcing Chase to go unsponsored.

Chase said racing full-time, living in Mooresville, N.C., which he said was the Hollywood of the racing world, owning two cars and renting a shop was not cheap.

"It does get pretty expensive to get parts for the cars and renting the shop," Chase said. "For a family budget, it's pretty expensive."

But Chase said his family has been nothing but the best, helping him further his career. He said he would be nowhere without his family's love and support.

Some of this support comes from his dad and sister who live with him in North Carolina while he trains, and his mom lives in Eudora, acting as his public affairs coordinator and finance director.

Chase's mom, Marianne, says the Austin family is committed to furthering his racing career.

"Everything our family does revolves around his racing," Marianne said. "In fact, his sister had several jobs in high school to help fund his racing."

He sticks to a pretty rigorous practice regimen in order to keep his car and his skills up to snuff, Chase said. He usually wakes up around 8 a.m., is in the shop by 8:30 a.m., and works on maintaining the vehicle all day. Then he goes home, eats, hangs out with his sister and eventually goes to bed.

But don't let the fact that Chase races full time and lives in North Carolina make you think he slacks in his schoolwork. He still stays up-to-date with his academics, which is made possible by the Community Learning Center in Eudora. He says he takes online courses that are self-paced, but usually spends four hours a day studying during the school year.

Being a full-time student and a full-time car racer can, no doubt, pose a challenge to anyone's social life. While Chase said he did not have too many close friends in North Carolina, he still maintained his friends back home in Eudora and kept in touch with them regularly.

Although maybe an odd choice for someone to idolize, Chase said he respects NASCAR racer Kyle Bush, even though Bush is not too highly regarded in the professional circuit.

"He's a good racer, but his attitude off the track, not a lot of people like," Chase said. "Because not many people like him, I think that's why I do like him so much, because I like to be different."

Austin is gearing up for yet another race. Chase will be at the Orange County Speedway Aug. 19, in Rougemont, N.C. racing in the Pro All-Stars series.

But regardless of how he performs at that race, Marianne said his family was behind him 100 percent, and was so proud of him and his accomplishments.

"If it were me, I would have given up on the dream," Maryann said. "He does not want to give up when the going gets tough. His persistent drive keeps him going."

"More than anything, I'm proud of the person he's become."

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