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Austin And Ribbs Making Racing History At Firestone Freedom 100


VIDEO: Willy T. Ribbs and Chase Austin Talk About Driver/Coach Relationships


Talented young driver Chase Austin will make his Indy Lights debut with Willy T. Ribbs Racing in the Firestone Freedom 100 on Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, May 27. When Austin takes the green flag that day he will become the first African American driver ever to start a Firestone Indy Lights race.

Austin, 21, will be driving for Starting Grid, Inc., led by Chris Miles and Willy T. Ribbs, who made history of his own in 1991 by becoming the first African-American driver ever to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. To spot Austin during the race look for the No. 75 on his car, which was the same number on the car Ribbs drove in his second and final Indianapolis 500 start in 1993.

Racing has played a major role in Austin’s life since he was eight years old when he joined with his father, Steve in bringing back to life a beaten up go-kart that he could race with.

As a youngster, Austin competed for his unsponsored, family-owned team in everything from 900-pound midgets to 700 horsepower dirt late models.

A resident of Eudora, Kansas, Austin was signed as a developmental driver for Hendrick Motorsports just weeks before his 15th birthday and made history as the youngest driver to secure a contract with a NASCAR team. He went on to earn one pole position, two race wins and six top-10 finishes in the ASA Late Model Series that season, and at age 18 he became the first African-American driver in history to compete in a NASCAR Nationwide Series oval track event in Memphis.

Austin was picked up by Rusty Wallace Racing in 2007 and made history as the first African-American driver to start in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race on an oval track, and only the second (after Bill Lester) to compete in series history.

A part-time driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series last year, Austin is now looking towards his debut in the Indy Lights Series on Friday after earning his oval rookie license earlier this month at Chicagoland Speedway.

As excited as he is to compete at IMS, Austin considers himself a racer who will get behind the wheel of any vehicle. “I don’t have one thing that I like more than the other really,” he said. “If I had to choose there was a dirt car that I ran when I was 12 years old that would be my favorite, but I’ll hop in anything that I get a chance to drive, and I’ll do a rally car or I’ll race shopping carts in the parking lot.”

Hungry to learn about all forms of racing, Austin has received plenty of advice since he arrived in Indianapolis. “More than anything, everybody and Willy, has given me some advice really wanting me to work with the engineer and I’ve gotten some basic tips on how to run it,” he said. “It’s been a while since Willy has run here and the advice he’s given me has helped, but everyone has been telling me to work with my engineer because those are the guys with the brains in the organization.”

While Austin understands that he and Ribbs will make history when the green flag drops for the Freedom 100 on Friday, he’s focused on a lot more than just competing at Indy. “You don’t enter a race if you don’t want to win,” he said. “I get more upset with myself when I have a car that can do better than what I drive it to. We had some issues with our test and hopefully we have those resolved. We hired a new engineer and he really went over the car, when before we really didn’t have time to go over the car and do what we needed to do, so preparation in the shop is a lot better, and as anybody can tell you, races are won in the shop with all the preparation and things that they do.”

Ribbs, who is mentoring Austin this month at Indy, believes Austin has the potential to become an accomplished driver. “What I like about him as a talent is I like his feedback and his understanding about what he’s doing,” he said. “He’s only 21-years old and once he gets some time and some miles under his belt I think he’s going to be great. He’s on the greatest race track on the planet and it’s a place where he can begin his IndyCar career if he so choses, and I know he’s capable.”

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