By Bill W, Funderburk Racing Photos
April 27, 2011 – The first outing of the 2011 sprint car season is in the books for Altoona, Iowa teenager Austin McCarl and the TMAC Motorsports #17A team. Last Saturday night, the only show in the Midwest took place at the 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa as the Monster Energy™ Sprint Series kicked off their season. Austin finished a respectable tenth in a strong 39-car field, and will be ready for this weekend’s season opener at the Knoxville Raceway.
Veteran crew chief, Steve Fitzpatrick, will again be in Austin’s corner this season. Saturday’s show was a good way to shake things down for another busy season. “It was my first night back since seven months ago at Knoxville,” says Austin. “For Steve, it was his first time at a short track in quite a while. It was a good practice night for both of us. We’re working to get on the same page again.”
Austin qualified 17th in the 39-car field. A rainy week, and two rain delays kept things nice and tacky on the 3/8-mile oval. “We were just so tight all night long,” he says. “Qualifying, I didn’t go high enough and we hit a couple of holes. I was knocking the cobwebs out. I messed up my lap.”
Though he didn’t compete in the “wheelie contest” following the night’s feature, Austin feels that he should have won based on his performance in a heat race where he held onto a third place finish. “We kept trying things throughout the night, and it just wasn’t working,” he says. “I feel we should have won the ‘wheelie contest’ before it ever happened; we were so tight. One time in the heat, I pulled a wheelie for the full front straightaway.”
The finish meant he would start inside row six for the 30-lap main event. He was able to stay on the lead lap for the first twelve laps and move into the top ten. “For the feature, we thought we had fixed our tightness problem, but we didn’t,” says the 2010 Knoxville Raceway Most Improved Driver of the Year. “We were just so viciously tight all night.”
Hanging in there, the Eagle Chassis with Don Ott power started to work for him. “Finally, I started feeling pretty comfortable the last ten laps of the feature or so,” says Austin. “By then, it was too late for us to finish anywhere but around tenth. It could have been worse. To come out of it with a top ten is something to build on.”
The focus this week will be preparing for Knoxville’s opener. Austin hopes to improve on his career-best 10th place point standing posted a year ago. “Steve and I are working to get our Knoxville program down,” he says. “We’ll fine-tune it on Friday night at practice and hopefully, we’ll be ready to roll on Saturday. We’ll get better.”
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Austin would like to thank AmeriCash Advance.com, Rossie Feed and Grain, DeBerg Concrete, Deanfield Farms, Phil and Vivian, Vortex, CM Rock, Mark Burch Motorsports, Engler, HRP, Hoosier Tire, BRMS, K&N Filters, Sander, Jocko’s Sprint Parts, Crow Safety and Bell Helmets for all their help!