Last week Trail Motorsports announced that they had signed Chase Austin, a 19-year-old, African-American driver, to run full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2009.
I'm excited that this tremendously talented driver finally landed a ride in one of NASCAR's three elite series.
So much has been written and commented on Bleacher Report about the NASCAR Driver Diversity program. I can see the purpose of the program, but I've always believed you can't manufacture interest in driving; you either have the racing bug or you don't.
With the recent announcement about Austin, it shows my thoughts could be true, since he has never been part of the driver diversity program and wants to make it on his own merit.
Trail Motorsports is a newly-formed, minority-owned team, recently birthed by wealthy Chicago businessman Art Shelton.
Shelton purchased Fitz Motorsports, changed the name to Trail, then kept on Armando Fitz as a consultant. His son Patrick runs the day-to-day operations of the team.
Austin's racing career began at the age of eight. It was then that, with his dad's help, he pieced together a go-kart to race with.
Austin has always been determined to work his way up the racing ladder, and he has participated in many different series, both on dirt and asphalt.
The majority of his career, he's raced unsponsored in family-owned equipment. He's won races in just about every series he's run in.
At the age of 13, he won the Future Dirt Track World Championship. At 14, Austin became the youngest driver ever signed to a development program when Hendrick Motorsports inked him.
In his only season with HMS, he compiled two wins, two top-five finishes, six top-10 finishes, and a pole win.
Sadly, the Hendrick Team plane crash in 2004 killed several key Hendrick Motorsports employees, including those responsible for the Driver Development Program. This caused the program to be shut down, resulting in Chase not only losing friends but also the Hendrick opportunity.
By the age of 15, Austin had over 100 feature wins, several point championships, and Rookie of the Year honors in Dirt Late Model Racing.
In 2007, he joined Rusty Wallace Racing's Driver Development Program, but the opportunity didn't last long, as a sponsorship deal fell through due to the housing market crash.
With little experience on asphalt, Austin ran in the Camping World East Series, compiling four top-10 finishes in 11 races, and ran in one Nationwide race for the team at Memphis.
The one thing from reading up on Chase that left an impression on me is that he's the real deal. With each hurdle thrown at him, he never gave up on racing in NASCAR.
Chase never let it get him down; after each obstacle, he just kept racing for his own family-run team in the Dirt Late Model Division, waiting for a new opportunity. Most importantly, he kept on learning.
Sometimes he was even his own crew chief while driving. He spent hours off-track turning wrenches on his own cars.
But here's a secret about this wunderkind: He has an ace up his sleeve in the form of his parents, Steve and Marianne Austin.
They have played a role in their son's success, supported him, and have always been there to help him. They even made sacrifices so he could race. There's no way one can write about Austin without including them in the story.
Getting back to Trail Motorsports, Art Shelton announced he has a five-year plan. He is prepared to run out-of-pocket if need be, but the team does have verbal commitments regarding sponsorship, and those will be announced during Daytona Speed weeks.
The team will be fielding not only Austin in trucks, but also Jarit Johnson in the NASCAR Camping World East Series as a development driver. By the way, you guessed correctly if you said he was Jimmie's little brother.
Trail will also field a Nationwide team, but has yet to announce the driver of the car.
Now, you'll want to bookmark Trail Motorsports on your computer and then join this "Fan Forward" mentality that is Trail's philosophy.
Become a fan of this team and you'll get unprecedented access to the team, your voices heard, and maybe your name put on the side of the team's truck and cars.
Art Shelton and Trail have pledged that no Trail Motorsports vehicle will run without having a fan's name on its side panel.
"Fans are our lifeblood, and without them, none of this would have been possible. As we build to Daytona, elements will be revealed that will allow them to be closer to us than ever before. You will see our most devoted and dedicated fans as active participants in the decision-making process," Fitz said.
Interestingly, Austin was to be in the Nationwide Series program, but opted for the Truck Series program.
It's a great starting point, as he'll race against a mix of great young talent and wily veterans. In general, it's a very competitive series that features the best racing in NASCAR and the best rookie battle, between Austin and Buescher.
Also, for a young driver aspiring to make it to Cup one day, you need to start in Trucks first, then move up to the Nationwide Series.
Racing in trucks will allow Austin and Trail to build a great foundation before they make the next step towards Cup by moving up to the Nationwide Series.
I love this signing because I remember when it was announced that Chase was signed to HMS, and was truly bummed to see that deal end due to the tragic plane crash.
I did research more about Chase Austin to write this article. I'm excited to see this happen, as this kid is tremendously talented, and I'll say in a year-and-a-half, he's in Cup with Trail Motorsports.
Once Austin takes Trail to Cup, I'm thinking they'll be permanent fixtures in the sport and will continue to look for young, talented drivers. They can give them an opportunity to race in any of the three Elite Series in NASCAR.
I'm also going to to be featuring Chase in my "S.M.'s Camping World Update." He'll have his own section called "The Rookie Chase," where I'll keep you updated on his racing and add my thoughts on his racing in a brief recap.
NASCAR has always strived to include women and minorities in the sport with its diversity program.
In 2009, they are taking a huge step not only with Chase Austin, but also with Marc Davis running a family-owned team with support from Joe Gibbs Racing. Plus, one can't leave out the promising, developing careers of both Gabi DiCarlo and Ali Owens, two talented lady drivers, and Chrissy Wallace. Keep your fingers crossed that she lands a sponsor.
The following sources were used for this article: racingone.com, espn.com, chaseaustin.net, en.wikipedia.org, and nascar.com.