By T.J. Buffenbarger
(August 12, 2022) — The McCarl name is synonymous with the Knoxville Nationals as part of the “home team”, even when family members were traveling to race elsewhere. Austin McCarl gave those local fans a night to remember on Thursday by earning the pole position for the 61st NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals.
Amid a year at the Knoxville Nationals where several of the top qualifiers failed to transfer through their heat race, McCarl put in a solid performance for the entire night setting fifth fastest time in qualifying, finishing in the fourth and final transfer spot in his heat race, backed up with moving up from seventh to fourth in the main event.
McCarl got his day going the right direction when he went up to draw his qualifying position with his brother Carson and dropping down through the order just enough to land in a later heat race in the program.
“I rolled off the 11 and thought we were starting off the day in the right direction,” said McCarl. You know, it just started right there. Then I laid down a lap that I thought could have been a little bit better. Honestly, I didn’t really feel like my motor was running that great. Once I got to fifth quick I was just praying, no one would beat me so I wouldn’t go to the first heat it all just worked out.”
After Wednesday when most of the fast qualifiers did not transfer through the heat race McCarl was concerned after witnessing some of the top qualifiers suffering the same fate early on in Thursday’s program. McCarl found a little inspiration from some “Sunshine” in the form of Tyler Courtney.
“Watching those first three heats, and nobody from the fourth row even really came close. As I was getting in the car, I saw Tyler (Courtney) got a good start and was able to get it done,” said McCarl. “Honestly, I was like, ‘Well, if I can’t get there, at least I’ll start in the second row of the B rather than the third’. I think starting on the outside is a little bit better here sometimes just because you can kind of open your wing board up getting into one. Once we got to fourth my foot started shaking coming to the checkered in the heat race. I just knew that was huge, I knew that more than likely we’re not going to have to race tomorrow no matter what happens.”
The sense of relief of transferring to the feature through the heat race set McCarl’s mind at ease. With the pressure removed McCarl drove up from seventh starting position to finish fourth, just missing out on a podium position.
“Starting seventh in the feature the pressure was off to me, the hardest part is getting there, and I can just go out there and race and run my stuff and just do whatever I want to do. It all worked out. Guys on the bottom kind of missed it a little bit and I was able to squeak by. Normally my thing’s up there just screaming around the top and I felt really plugged into the bottom. I knew Carson kind of drove around me and three and four and I debated moving up, but I could really judge myself off a two I thought if I could really get the left front up on the berm and stay plugged in.”
McCarl found some inspiration from one of his father’s biggest rivals to help him stay disciplined enough to continue using the bottom of the race track.
“I just thought of Danny Lasoski the entire time,” said McCarl of his inspiration to remain on the low side of the racetrack. “He made a million dollars just on that 50 feet of the exit of two there. I just kept trying to hit the bottom and I felt like when I hit it right, I could launch down the back straightaway. I just felt like it was better than one time I did kind of run through the middle and or up on the top in one and two. I just felt like I didn’t carry the exit speed that I needed to, it just felt like a long way around. I just stayed on the bottom and just kind of kept running my race until I seen anybody and just kind of judge myself off the guys in front of me.”
McCarl counted down the laps and knew something happened when his father ran up to the car after running fourth to tell him he had scored the most points, which didn’t sink in until he heard it announced over the public address system. From there was pure elation for himself, his family, and race team.
“I don’t know man. It’s an amazing feeling. I mean, I tell people all the time you just come in here trying to do your best and get to that heat race as best you can. It’s so huge as you can see and last night was such a weird low night that I thought being fifth quick and if you could just get out of there you’re going to be decent, you know and I don’t know I think it’s the goal we always kind of joke the goal is just kind of be in that top 26 so you don’t have to race tomorrow, tomorrow is so tough. To be on the pole is pretty amazing”
Much like others who have found success in major events, the moment was setup during the off season with McCarl’s car owners opting to race in the Midwest rather than in California and making some key decisions with personnel and vendors.
“I really need to thank Country Builders, Weldon Offill, Phil, Keith, Brian , Kelly and everybody back home. They came to me at the end of last year and said they wanted to run for Knoxville and Huset’s points and I was pretty shocked to be honest with you. I thought they’d want me to run around California and I just can’t thank them enough for letting me do what I wanted to do and get me a crew guy for the first time in my life. He’s taken a lot of the heat off me paying bills. All the credit goes to them.
Dave Reedy with Penske shocks has been huge for me this year. I wish I could race with Dave around me more because the last couple nights having a guy that I really trust watch my car. He is such a huge help. I mean, if you watched me at the Cappy you would have thought I was out to lunch. I read someone posted that I was outside chance to make the A, they can shove that up their ass.”
The night capped off an incredible day for the entire McCarl family with Austin and his wife Alyssa are expecting their first child in February. With fatherhood on the horizon and already being over the moon with the news, McCarl plans on staying focused yet trying to appreciate the moment.
“During the four wide I’m going to have to soak that in because this this may never happen again. We’re just going to soak it up, and probably will be a little hungover tomorrow.”