How young is too young with it comes to an early-stage NASCAR racing career? Well the answer is simple – its never too young. As a pure illustration of this fact, consider Austin Wayne Self, the 15 year old young gun who is currently tearing up the State of Texas in the NASCAR Whelan Late Model and Pro Modified ranks.
At four, Austin’s father put him in a racing kart for the first time, and the experience must have struck a chord since the youngster proceeded to win his first event. To paraphrase the old saying, ‘the past became the future,’ but between his initial karting win, and eleven WKA National Cups, the WKA Grand National Championship, the TAG World Championship and the Rock Island Grand Prix Championship, there were long hours solo-lapping and honing his craft mechanically.
At fourteen Austin was introduced to Mary Ann Naumann, owner of Thunderhill Raceway, who took a look at the kid and decided that he was both talented enough, and mature enough, to handle running with her TSRS Late Model guys on the venue’s 3/8th mile paved oval at Kyle Texas, just outside Austin.
“Austin was special,” she says, “…I was a bit concerned at first because he was so young, but my son H.E. knew about his background, and we ran him through our track certification program. In the end of the day, there were no problems, and as a result of his on-track experience, along with how well he presented himself, I was confident that he’d succeed.”
Naumann was obviously ahead of the talent curve, since Self immediately reeled off three Late Model wins and placed third overall in the 2010 TSRS Championship, subsequently winning Rookie of the Year honors. In 2011, Austin decided to pick it up a notch, by entering the Pro Modified division, along with continuing his work in Late Model, in addition to competing at selected Pro Karting events. Currently, he lies fifth in both the 2011 Late Model and Pro Modified Championships. including a same-day Late Model win, plus a second in the Pro Modified division, all on his fifteenth birthday.
Meanwhile, his program is already expanding toward the 2012 season. “We’re interested in getting more experience running in the East, particularly racetracks in Virginia and North Carolina where all the best NASCAR teams are. I am focused on a long professional career, so we may as well get out there and see how we do. Racing in Texas has been great, and I hope our local fans continue to follow us. But moving out East to race is just really cool.”
“There are some details that need working out, but I’ve been waiting for this, and to finally get to race on a famous NASCAR track, with a big field and great drivers and teams, it’s like a dream. There is no doubt we’re going to have to deal with a learning curve, so I don’t think anyone expects to go out there and start winning. But, I think it’s going to be a lot like last season when I was barely fourteen, and we made our first Late Model start in Central Texas. The drivers and fans were really skeptical, but then we pulled off a win after just three races, and earned some respect. It’ll be the same way out there I think.”
“I’m not alone, and have a good support group behind me, including my Dad and my crew chief, plus we have good press and management folks in the mix as well. So, I think we’ve got all the right pieces in place, and we’re ready to go the next level.”
To aggressively illustrate his point, Self and his team will be taking his program to the venerable racetrack in South Boston, Virginia for NASCAR’s Late Model 300 event the end of March. And, on the business side, his media and management folks are already prospecting for additional sponsorship for next season.
“I love racing. I love everything about it, and this is what I want to do as a career. But I can’t get where I want to go, unless I have patience plus professional people behind me. My Dad taught me that, and I try to remember it every time I get to the racetrack.”
Author’s Note: Austin Wayne Self and Sellers Racing of Danville, Va. have finalized a 20-race business arrangement for the 2012 Season. The deal puts the youngster in the seat of a Sellers Racing Chevrolet, carrying Self’s signature 07 number. The Sellers operation, with Phillip Morris at the wheel, became the 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champions last weekend at South Boston Va.