Talking Racing with Austin Wayne Selfby Kyle Pokrefky February 13, 2015 0 comments
Photo credit: Tyler Sontag/Mason Mitchell Motorsports PR
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — In this week’s installment of Talking Racing, The Fourth Turn had the opportunity to have a chat with the ARCA Racing Series’s 2014 SCOTT Rookie of the Year, Austin Wayne Self.
Self, the driver of the No. 98 AM Technical Solutions Ford for Mason Mitchell Motorsports, will run for the championship this year in last year’s owners championship-winning car.
In this interview, the 18-year-old out of Austin, Texas talks about his unique start as a race car driver going toe-to-toe with open-wheel icons and his thoughts on the upcoming season with his new team and this weekend’s Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway.
Can you recall what moment in your life was the moment that made you decide that you wanted to become a race car driver?
Racing has always been a big part of my life, I’ve been doing it since I was five. I think one moment was when I was racing go-karts in Las Vegas and just being around the really intense competitive atmosphere and running really well was a big moment and seeing my family and my friends around me smiling and really happy; I think that was the moment where I realized my driving ability and what I can do can effect other people’s lives.
Was your mind always set on going into stock cars or were you open to going into other racing disciplines?
Growing up, I was really into IndyCar. I didn’t know a whole lot about NASCAR – I’d never been to a NASCAR race until after I started racing stock cars. I knew about all of the guys but I think I became a bigger fan after I started racing stock cars.
What racing series did you go through while climbing up through the stock car ranks?
I’ve done some local late model series in Texas. I did the [NASCAR] Whelen All-American Series up in North Carolina and Virginia and then we just jumped right into ARCA in 2013 and did some races there. I’ve been in a couple of K&N East races as well as almost a full season of ARCA last year.
Growing up, who were your heroes when it came to racing?
I think A.J. Foyt was the big guy because he was from Texas and I’ve always really liked him. Helio Castroneves seems like a pretty cool guy too. I don’t know, even Dan Wheldon was big – growing up, I raced with him in go-karts. He was always a guy I looked up to because he loved this sport and he was a really cool guy.
I know you didn’t get into stock cars until later in your career, but who was your first hero when it came to stock car racing?
I think Carl Edwards has always been the guy. I’ve always been into underdogs, of course, I love watching Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, all of those guys and Jeff Gordon, but I’ve always really liked Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray. As I’ve gotten a little bit older, I think I really like A.J. Allmendinger because he came from the open-wheel stuff and he’s been kind of making an impact in NASCAR over the last few years. I look up to him because all of the guys around me have raced with him and he’s been a guy I’ve looked up to.
Last season was your first attempt at a full ARCA season, if you could give last year a letter grade, what letter would you choose?
I think we got an A. Our goal was to go out there and learn a lot and win Rookie of the Year, and that’s what we did. I think it would have been really cool to get a win last year, but I can’t complain. We got a couple second-place finishes, third-place at Talladega, and with the amount I learned, coming over here to Mason Mitchell Motorsports I feel like I’m ready to attack and go for a championship this year. I’m really excited for that.
This is going to be your first year with Mason Mitchell Motorsports, can you talk about your thoughts on working with a new team this year?
I think it’s a really cool deal. Mason is obviously a really good driver, and I think he’s also a good person to. I’ve learned a lot racing against him in the past few years, just his hard work and it’s pretty amazing, on and off the track he wants to win and he does whatever it takes to do that. I’m really excited to be able to drive the No. 98 car and to have Mason there beside me, he’s racing this weekend, and I think it’s just a really cool deal to have him on the track with me. It’s always nice to have two cars out there and kind of bounce our thoughts off of each other. I think it’s going to be a really good year. I learned a lot last year and I think we’re prepared and everybody on the No. 98 team is ready to go out and attack the 2015 ARCA season and go for a championship.
What I find really interesting about this new deal is that you’re only 18 and Mason, your team owner, is only 20. What’s it like having a team owner that’s more your age rather than having an owner much older than yourself?
It is a cool deal with Mason being 20 years old. I don’t think it’s any disadvantage at all. I think, if anything, it might be more of an advantage because we’ve grown up racing pretty close to the same thing with stock cars. I think he gets me really well. He knows what I want. We’re able to communicate and get along really well and I think that’s important.
There are a bunch of changes effecting the ARCA Racing Series this year with the new Ilmor engines and with new bodies from Five Star Bodies. Are you expecting much of a difference when it comes to driving this new car?
The Ilmor engines we’ve already had a bit of testing done [with them] at Daytona [and] I’m really excited with that. Ilmor, they do a lot of IndyCar stuff and I think they’re really cool guys. It’s really nice to have those guys here at the race track working on the motors. I think it takes a little bit of stress off the team when we can just focus on the race car. That’s a really cool deal right there and I think the new bodies look really cool. We haven’t got to drive them yet, so I can’t really tell you how they feel on a race track but they’re some really cool looking cars. Mason brought our car to the PRI (Performance Racing Industry) show in December and it was a good looking car.
Looking ahead to this weekend, last year you DNQ’d for the Lucas Oil 200 while qualifying was set by single-car runs. With this year’s starting grid being set by group qualifying, what’s your strategy that you’re going to use to not only get yourself into the race, but go for the pole?
We’ve got a little bit of experience (with group qualifying) at Talladega when I raced Talladega last year. I don’t know, it mixes things up a lot because single-car runs – if you’ve got a strong car by yourself you can qualify well. It’s interesting now because you’re put in groups and you’ve got to be on top of your game through the whole weekend with your practice so you can get in a good group in qualifying. It gets interesting when you get out there with six other guys and you don’t know what they’re going to do. You’ve got to depend on your group and you’ve got to work with them and they’ve got to work with you. It gets interesting.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Self qualified in the second of seven groups to take to the track and completed a lap that will place him 27th on the starting grid for tomorrow’s race.
As you mentioned earlier, you had a great run at Talladega last year with that third-place finish. While Daytona also uses restrictor plates, it’s a completely different animal than Talladega. What sort of gameplan are you looking at utilizing to put yourself in a position to win the race tomorrow?
I’ve been down here watching for the past couple years so I’ve been able to kind of get a feel for everything at the race track. Not everything is totally new but it’s definitely different. The yellow line is even more important here, it seems that the outside hasn’t worked for the past couple years. I’ve got Mason here and these guys aren’t new to this. … With ‘Pickle’ (Ryan London, crew chief) and all of these guys behind me, I feel like we can win this race.
Outside of ARCA, what are your racing plans looking like for this year?
We’re going to run the full ARCA season, right now that’s the main focus. We want to win the ARCA championship so we’re focusing on that and doing everything we can to win that. On the side, we’ve got some Super Late Model races scheduled. We’re going to race at our home track, Central Texas Speedway, and do some late model racing there. This year, our main focus is that ARCA championship [and] trying to get that No. 98 AM Technical Solutions Mason Mitchell Ford into victory lane as much as we can and come home with the championship.
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky