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– CHICO, Calif. (July 6) – Optimism is at an all-time high for Austen Wheatley after one of the best weekends of his career.
The 18-year-old from Lake Stevens, Wash., qualified for the dash both nights with the King of the West Sprint Car Series at the inaugural Howard Kaeding Classic at Ocean Speedway in Watsonville, Calif., last Friday and Saturday.
Wheatley then put together the highlight of his season by earning his first top five of the season at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, Calif., on Monday.
“I’d definitely say Chico was the highlight of my season so far,” he said. “It was the first night on our new Shaver engine, which worked great.”
Wheatley qualified seventh quickest and finished second in his heat race, when he had the best lap time of all the competitors. He started the feature sixth, but pulled a wheelie on the start and dropped several positions. However, he methodically worked his way through the cars on the rough track to place fourth.
“The restarts were a big help,” he said. “That’s where I passed a majority of the cars.
“The car has been fast all year and was good all weekend, but Chico was the first night I’ve been able to put it all together for a solid finish.”
Wheatley saw a pair of promising nights with the King of the West Series end in crashes.
After qualifying fifth and finishing fourth in his heat race on Friday at Ocean Speedway, Wheatley earned a trip to the dash. However, a nasty flip ended his race and while the team put the car back together for the feature, they were unsure and pulled off early in the feature to finish 22nd.
Saturday went similar, with Wheatley qualifying fourth, placing fourth in his heat race and ending the dash in sixth. He started the main event on the outside of the third row, but was quickly challenging veteran Tim Kaeding for third place before disaster struck on lap five.
“I hooked a rut coming off turn two and it pulled the front end up,” Wheatley said. “I hit the concrete wall and that ended our night.”
He again finished 22nd. However, despite the two feature disappointments, Wheatley gained a lot of confidence from last weekend’s performances.
He is scheduled to head out to the Midwest for more racing this summer, beginning Saturday at Knoxville Raceway in Knoxville, Iowa. He’ll also compete on Sunday at Huset’s Speedway in Brandon, S.D.
“I’m really excited to get back out to the Midwest,” he said. “I haven’t gotten to travel and race a lot this season, so it will be good to get back out there.”
QUICK RESULTS –
July 1 – Ocean Speedway in Watsonville, Calif. – Qualifying: 5; Heat race: 4 (3); Dash: 8 (7); Feature: 22 (8).
July 2 – Ocean Speedway in Watsonville, Calif. – Qualifying: 4; Heat race: 4 (4); Dash: 6 (5); Feature: 22 (6).
July 4 – Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, Calif. – Qualifying: 7; Heat race: 2 (3); Feature: 4 (6).
SEASON STATS –
14 races, 8 features, 0 wins, 1 top five, 2 top 10s, 3 top 15s, 4 top 20s
UP NEXT –
Saturday at Knoxville Raceway in Knoxville, Iowa, and Sunday at Huset’s Speedway in Brandon, S.D.
FAVORITE NUMBER –
6.67: Average feature starting position last weekend for Wheatley in his three-race return to California.
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 – Astro Titanium
Established in 1999, Astro Titanium manufactures quality titanium fasteners for sprint cars and midgets. Based out of Noti, Ore., owner Dave Sims has developed his business into a titanium leader on a national scale. For more information, visit www.astrotitanium.com.
“Astro Titanium and Dave Sims have been with me since the beginning of my career,” Wheatley said. “Anytime we have a problem, we call Dave up and he helps. He’s a really personable guy and his products work great.”
Wheatley would like to thank his sponsors, including Wolfweld, The Oil Medics, SpeedMart, Fire-Down Graphics, Advanced Racing Suspensions, DMI, Brown & Miller Racing Solutions, Goodyear and Redlined Welding & Construction for their continued support.