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– ALGER, Wash. (June 20) – There were moments of greatness and those of frustration, but Austen Wheatley’s return to the cockpit was fast.
“The car was really, really fast,” the 18-year-old from Lake Stevens, Wash., said of last weekend’s performance at the 40th annual Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup at Skagit Speedway in Alger, Wash.
“Being off for two months and being that fast shows us something.”
After 11 weeks away from the driver’s seat, Wheatley raced Thursday through Saturday at arguably the biggest 410 sprint car race on the West Coast. However, his weekend began inauspiciously when he pulled into the pits midway through his heat race on Thursday.
“It was puking a bunch of oil so I thought it was blowing up,” he said. “But it was just the fuel system and we got it fixed.”
That forced him to start in the back of the B Main and Wheatley fell only a couple of positions shy of transferring to the feature.
Friday started on a positive note as Wheatley qualified fifth quickest and transferred to the feature from his top-three finish in the heat race.
“I felt more comfortable,” he said. “I was good and the car was good. It was a comfortable and relaxing night.”
Wheatley picked up speed, but the hooked-up track bit him in the opening laps of the feature. Running in the top 10, Wheatley hit a rut in turn three and his car dramatically flipped, ending his night with a 22nd-place finish.
“The car was really tight and the track was really hooked up,” he said. “The crash got a majority of the bolt-on parts.”
The team repaired the damage and Wheatley started seventh in the B Main on Saturday, which was a day the features were lined up based on combined points from the two preliminary nights.
He finished fourth to claim a transfer to the 40-lap feature, which paid $40,000 to the winner. Wheatley started 20th and rocketed toward the front from the drop of the green flag. He was closing in on the top 10 when disaster struck again.
About five laps into the race, Wheatley barely collided with another driver, which forced him down on the burm in turn four. That caught his car and spun it out, forcing Wheatley to restart in the back. After being lapped quickly on the short track, Wheatley hung with the leaders the rest of the race and finished 15th.
“The car was fast and we probably could have been top 10,” he said. “I’m pretty happy about the speed we showed after the extended time off and I can’t wait to get back to the track again.”
QUICK RESULTS –
June 16 – Skagit Speedway in Alger, Wash. – Qualifying: 17; Heat race: 8 (1); B Main: 10 (13).
June 17 – Skagit Speedway in Alger, Wash. – Qualifying: 5; Heat race: 3 (4); Feature: 22 (12).
June 18 – Skagit Speedway in Alger, Wash. – B Main: 4 (7); Feature: 15 (20).
SEASON STATS –
11 races, 5 features, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 1 top 10, 2 top 15s, 3 top 20s
FAVORITE NUMBER –
11: Weeks off for Wheatley, who returned last weekend at the 40th annual Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup at Skagit Speedway in Alger, Wash., with a 15th-place finish in the finale.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS –
Wheatley has gray and white t-shirts, gray sweatshirts and charcoal gray hats and beanies for sale. For more information, visit www.austenwheatley.com.
SPONSOR SPOTLIGHT – Fire-Down Graphics
Based in Monroe, Wash., Fire-Down Graphics provides graphics for helmets and race cars. Owner Brent Anderson crewed for various World of Outlaws teams before focusing on his business. For more information, visit www.firedowngraphics.com.
“I think they make the coolest helmets ever,” Wheatley said. “Brent Anderson is one of the best helmet designers around and the car always look great, too.”
Wheatley would like to thank his sponsors, including Wolfweld, The Oil Medics, SpeedMart, Advanced Racing Suspensions, Astro Titanium, DMI, Brown & Miller Racing Solutions, Goodyear and Redlined Welding & Construction for their continued support.