Monday, August 20, 2012

Chase Austin Tapped as A.J Foyt's Driver for 2013 Indy 500

Between GOP Missouri Rep. Todd Akin's comments about rape  and my last blog about Dinesh D'Souza's crazy ass I gotta switch gears, so lets talk auto racing. You wouldn't know it from most of my posts here but I'm a true gear-head who's loved fast cars since I was old enough to know that they were loud and went fast.

So when I read an Associated Press article about a young African-American race car driver prodigy named Chase Austin, I had to blog about it. That's Chase pictured in the box and I'm a bit jealous because he looks like the age I was when I was still playing with my prized Hot Wheels collection.

As reported by AP sports writer Rusty Miller, Austin, 22, has been racing different types of cars including go-carts, sprint cars, stock cars and Indy Lights, since he was 8-years old. He inked a development driver deal with the prestigious Hendricks Motorsports when he was just 14.

Austin caught Foyt's attention after Chris Miles, a principal with Starting Grid, Inc., (an organization that promotes minorities in racing motor sports) helped promote Austin as an Indy Lights driver for Willy T. Ribbs Racing. Racing legend A.J Foyt (himself a 4-time Indy 500 winner) recently tapped Austin to drive his A.J. Foyt Enterprises racing teams Indy car entry next year. If he can qualify for the race in 2013, he's poised to become just the third black driver to compete in the prestigious Indianapolis 500.

Willy T. Ribbs raced at Indy in 1991 and 1993 (backed in part by comedian Bill Cosby), and George Mack raced in 2002.

For guys and not a few women, race car drivers occupy a special place atop the apex of popular culture. You don't need to know a lot about cars or auto racing to recognize names like Jackie Stewart, Michael Schumacher, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt or even one of my childhood favorites, the mysterious animated Racer-X from the classic Japanese cartoon Speed Racer; which I watched religiously as a child. Was there anything cooler than the Mammoth Car?

Growing up I watched races like the Indy 500 and Daytona 500 but rarely saw people of color involved with the sport. Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of England has emerged as one of the best drivers in the world in a sport where few people of color had any real presence until he came on the scene. But as Formula One broadens its reach past it's Euro-centric origins with drivers of many different nationalities and new Grand Prix races in places like Abu Dubai, China, Malaysia and Singapore, popular drivers like Hamilton have come to symbolize auto racing's efforts to diversify it's ranks.

There's little question the world of Indy racing recognizes it's own need to follow suit. Time will tell if Austin has the right stuff, but either way it's an exciting moment for auto racing and a special moment for American race fans. Kudos to A.J. Foyt for giving a young talented brother a chance too; that's big.

Somehow I doubt the mainstream media will fawn all over him the way they do Danica Patrick.

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