"Young Driver Making His Mark" - 5/2/12

 

It's a busy spring for Austin McDaniel between racing, working and going to school.

 

The Hickory Ridge High School senior is the points leader in the Bojangles Late Models at Hickory Motor Speedway. So far this season, he has one win, three seconds, a third and a fifth-place finish.

 

"Right now racing is like a hobby and some day I really want to make it my profession," McDaniel said.

 

His plan is to continue racing while attending Rowan Cabarrus Community College's motorsports program and then to study mechanical engineering at UNC Charlotte.

 

"So many of the drivers and crew chiefs have engineering backgrounds. It helps in setting up the racecars and knowing how everything works," McDaniel said.

 

Right now a typical week for McDaniel includes school Monday through Friday until 12:30 p.m. Then he heads to work at Honda Cars of Concord, where he changes oil Monday through Wednesday from 1 to 7 p.m.

 

On Friday afternoon he heads to Hickory to practice at the speedway. Saturday is race night. Sunday he goes to Rocky Ridge United Methodist Church.

 

Racing is a family affair for McDaniel with both grandfathers, James McDaniel and David Traylor, along with his dad, Brian McDaniel, pooling their resources for the car and support. His mother Stephanie McDaniel and sister Madison McDaniel are also at the track and help out. Madison is a sophomore soccer player at Hickory Ridge.

 

They got Austin his first car, a Quarter Midget, for Christmas in 2005. He began racing at Bobby Labonte's track in Rowan County in 2006. He won six out of 26 races the first year and 12 more races over the next season and a half before switching to Legends racing.

 

"Everybody told us that if he could race a Legends car he could drive anything, so we made the move," Traylor said.

 

Austin won four Legends races in a season and a half before moving up to the limited late models at Hickory in 2010. He was even more successful in that racing division, winning seven races in 2010, including the Myrtle Beach 400. He was 16 at the time.

 

Traylor keeps a scrapbook filled with pictures of Austin, the cars, his accomplishments and other memorabilia. There's also a picture of the front stretch at Daytona.

 

"I keep this in here because this is where we want to go," Traylor said.

 

This is McDaniel's second season in the late model division. In 2011, he won four times and finished second in points at Hickory. He was named NASCAR's North Carolina Rookie of the Year.

 

The success and award got McDaniel a spot at an autograph table with Ned Jarrett and other NASCAR greats.

 

"It was awesome to listen to them talk about racing at Hickory and the stories they tell and the people they raced against," McDaniel said.

 

The Crew Chief for the car is Jonathan Morrison of Statesville, who helps McDaniel set up the No. 12. The number comes from his first baseball uniform with Harrisburg Youth Association.

 

McDaniel said he races at Hickory because of the track's tradition and the high level of competition.

 

"If you win the championship, they put your name on the big board outside with legends like Ned Jarrett and Ralph Earnhardt," McDaniel said.

 

The goal this season is to win the points at Hickory and then possibly race at Myrtle Beach and a few other places after the Hickory season ends Sept. 15.

"We've only got one car and really don't want to take a chance racing somewhere else until after the season," Traylor said.

 

The team has strong sponsorship: Honda Cars of Hickory, Autotrader.com, Pro Class Trailers, Crowne Plaza Hickory, Wynn's Friction, Monster Energy Drinks, Kooks Custom Exhaust and Carrabba's.

 

Traylor said there are many teams that have more funding, especially in some of the traveling series, and damaging a race car is not as big a deal for them.

 

"If I tear up the car one week, I might not be able to race the next week," McDaniel said. "I can't afford to get mad and retaliate if someone hits me. The best way to get back at them is to win."

 

"Austin runs hard, but he runs clean," Traylor said.

 

More information about the team and photos are available at www.austinmcdanielracing.com