SPOTLIGHT ON SPEED: Chase Austin
In 2004 Chase Austin landed a deal as a development driver for NASCAR super team Hendrick Motorsports, and it looked like the sky was the limit for the 14-year-old Eudora racing phenom.
Fast forward to 2013 and Austin, now 23, is still chasing his dreams.
Austin, who has raced in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series and has a part-time ride in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, has raced regularly in the B Mod class in Heartland Park Topeka's Saturday Showdown dirt track series this season while waiting for his next big opportunity.
"I'm still doing the Indy Lights deal with Starting Grid and Bryan Herta Autosport," Austin said. "I ran at (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) for the Freedom 100 in May and I'm also doing the Fontana (Calif.) race in the season finale. In between then I'm running my dirt car. I've got the B Mod and we're working on another car, putting it together.
"I'm also starting a mentoring program to help kids, especially minority kids, who otherwise wouldn't get the chance to learn about race cars and the automotive world. It's pretty much like a scholarship. They don't have to pay anything, and we go pick them up and take them into our shop and teach them things. We're going to start bringing them to the race track so the can start learning and we can really get some kids into racing."
Obviously, back in '04 Austin hoped to be in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series by now, but the opportunity with Hendrick didn't pan out.
Austin had success in the ASA Late Model Series in 2005, including two wins, but a year later, Hendrick discontinued its development program, leaving Austin in limbo.
"That was really the time the economy started going bad and (Hendrick Motorsports) also had that terrible plane crash with Rick Hendrick's son (Ricky, who was one of 10 killed in the October, 2004 crash)," Austin said. "There were a lot of events that led up to (the end of the development program).
"It just wasn't the right timing, the right places, everything like that. It was no fault of anybody, just the wrong circumstances."
Since '06 Austin has had sporadic NASCAR stints in the Nationwide and truck series, but never anything for an extended period of time.
Austin has posted five top-10 finishes in the Indy Lights Series over the past three seasons and remains confident other opportunities will materialize.
"You've just got to put your name out there and do the best you can," Austin said. "I've never really had a really good opportunity to show my talent. I've never got to work with a team for a long time. It was a lot of one-off deals."
Austin is willing to listen to any offer.
"I've thought about doing some off-road truck stuff," he said. "Of course you have the Indy 500 and I'm still looking to try and do that in 2014. I've always said I'd race anything. If someone were to say, 'Hey, I've got a shopping cart race we want you to go to,' I'd hop right in it. Whatever opportunities come up, I'm not opposed to anything.
"Sponsorship and the economy and everything is up and down, but I'm up for anything."
In the meantime, Austin is enjoying his dirt track experience.
"I'm just trying to get back in the seat," he said. "I haven't raced a lot in the last few years, just here and there. I'm really trying to concentrate on the (dirt car) so I can get a lot more seat time and just get back in the rhythm of things so when an opportunity does pop up I'll be mentally ready, physically ready and just be prepared to go race."
"I'm still learning a lot about these (cars) and learning how to work on them and how to drive them and having a good time while I'm doing it."